Composite of young man living integrated life.

Keeping it All Together—How to Live an Integrated Life

In the modern world, we are often pulled in many directions at the same time. Demands of work, the needs of our family, our desire to be healthy—we have many voices demanding our attention and our emotional energy. Our lives can become a series of silos—discreet elements that don’t feed off of or into each other. This forces people to constantly switch gears mentally and emotionally. How can we prevent our lives from becoming a jumble of unrelated activities? How can we keep it all together?

An integrated life

What if we could maintain a common thread through the different parts of our lives? What if we could make the transitions between our activities more seamless and create some connective tissue among everything we do? How can we create a more integrated life?

Even though your life involves many activities that require different approaches and talents, it’s ultimately still you who’s showing up. You have to keep the real you, the essential you—the person you are at your core—invested in everything you do. We all have to play different roles in our lives—parent, spouse, sibling, friend, employee, coach—and each of these roles requires a different version of us. We have to bring different personality traits to bear depending on who we’re dealing with. But it’s important to not stray too far from who we truly are (see Essential You). The extent to which we can be true to our real selves makes a big difference in both feeling confident about how we live our lives and how easily we can move between the various parts of our lives.

Part of bringing your essential self to bear in all aspects of your life is sticking to your core values. The components of your life may be so different that you feel there is no overlap in the parts of you that you use in those different situations. However, if your core values are not incorporated into every part of your life, that’s a red flag—something you need to address. Part of living an integrated life is making sure the values that you hold dearest are present in everything you do.

One of my core values is gratitude. I strongly believe that if I always think about what I’m grateful for in my life, I will be happier, my life will have more meaning, and I will make the right decisions about where my life is going. I think about what I’m grateful for every day, and I try to write a thank you note once a week. This is something I can do in all aspects of my life, and it’s just one example of how you can apply your core values to everything you do.

Many lives in one life

In some ways, it’s OK to keep the various parts of our lives separate. For example, we don’t always want to be working or even thinking about work. However, this can be a significant challenge. It may not necessarily be work—we may be obsessed with music, or our relationships, or politics. But we have to make time and emotional space for all the parts of our lives.

We can accomplish this by being present in the moment. There is no more important requirement for living an integrated life than being present in whatever you are doing at any given time. Yes, you may be helping your child with homework and know you have a proposal for work that’s due by the end of the day, but whatever you’re doing, it’s important to give it your full attention and be aware of your interactions, your emotional state, and the nuances of the experience. You will need to make some choices about how to prioritize your time, but by being present, your choices will become clearer and your decisions more in tune with what you want to achieve.

Everything you do will result in learning experiences

There is something to be taken away from every experience we have—even the most unpleasant. If you have a job that has the potential to be all-encompassing, you certainly don’t want it to encroach on the energy you bring to your home life. But you’ve likely also had professional experiences that have carried over to other parts of your life in a positive way.

An important aspect of living an integrated life is drawing on your experiences as you evolve as a person. Be intentional about your growth and thoughtful about your experiences and your reactions to them. No matter what part of your life your learning opportunities come from, you can use them in an integrated way—you can use them to grow as a person and benefit from that growth in all aspects of your life

Organize all the parts of your life

For most of us, the different aspects of our lives contain details and activities that we need to track and keep straight. Keeping all the things we do organized is always a challenge, especially if we have different approaches for the different parts of our lives. For example, many of us have a work calendar and a personal calendar. It’s relatively straightforward to display our personal schedule on our work calendar and vice versa. The same is true for viewing the schedules of our family members.

We can transfer this approach to other aspects of our lives, too. For example, journaling is an excellent way to be intentional about how we process our experiences and mindful of how they impact us. In leading an integrated life, we need to ensure that we’re including every part of our life in the process. If we only journal about our personal experiences, we miss out on the other aspects of our lives, how they impact us, and how they all fit together.

When it feels like you’re moving through life too busy to reflect or even breathe, it can be hard to understand how all the pieces relate to each other and make up your integrated self. If we’re aware of this challenge and intentional about addressing it, we can create an integrated life that incorporates all the different lives we lead. Creating an integrated life gives us insights about how all the pieces fit together and gives each piece meaning. It can also help us identify the parts of our lives that aren’t a good fit and that we should consider dropping, as well as help us see the gems in our lives and give them more attention and energy.

If we are to truly know ourselves, we have to know all of the parts of ourselves—and how they fit together.

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