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Finding Your Priorities in Life

Updated on June 20, 2016
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and has qualifications in counselling CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.


A step-by-step exercise

It may seem surprising that we would lose sight of what’s important in our life, but when we’re under too much stress, everything is out of proportion.

We lose sight of what our priorities are, and every problem feels like a big problem.

The following is a "Desert Island List". It’s a step-by-step exercise to help you take a look at your life, and maybe get some sense of where you are right now:

Take a notebook and pen, find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed for an hour or so and begin:

Write each of these on a separate page of your notebook and leave a couple of blank pages in between:


Desert Island List; Finding Your Priorities

1. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you’re marooned on a desert island.

  • You have shelter and enough food and water to last you a lifetime, but nothing else.
  • You are completely alone.
  • You realize you could be here forever.
  • Think about everything that’s going on in your life right now...
  • Who or what will you miss the most?
  • Write down your answer.

2. What’s causing you the most stress right now?

  • Write down the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Often, it is something that someone else is doing, or a fear that something you are doing is not good enough.
  • Sometimes it’s more than one thing.

3.Make a list of all of your commitments, such as work, home, social or religious. In other words, everything that you feel you must do.

4. Make a list of your Most Important Tasks. Things that you feel absolutely must be done as soon as possible.

5. Ask yourself how much you value your time.

Write down your thoughts.

Who will you miss the most?
Who will you miss the most? | Source

Let's take a closer look at your priorities

1. Who or what will you miss most on that desert island?

Your first thought may be “Are you kidding? The peace would be wonderful!”

But I need you to really imagine that you’re stranded there forever.

Think about every aspect of your life, every relationship, and write down the positives and negatives of each.

Ask yourself again, who or what would you miss most?

Now you know what’s most important to you, this is where you need to put most of your energy.

Take some time to write down all the things you appreciate about this aspect of your life.

Just enjoy that feeling of appreciation for a moment.

Do this exercise anytime things are getting out of proportion. Do it mentally if you don’t have the time to write it all down.

2. What’s causing you the most stress right now?

It may not be just one big thing, but a combination of several smaller things that are getting you stressed. If that is the case, then do the following exercise with each problem individually.

If it’s one major problem, then take the time to focus on that.

Ask yourself the following questions:

 Is there anything I can practicably do to solve or reduce this problem?

 Is the problem caused by or involving someone else?

 Is the problem that I don’t believe enough in my own abilities?

 What is the worst-case-scenario here?

If there is something you can do to solve or at least reduce the problem, then take a separate page of your notebook and write out your plan of campaign.

Bear in mind the second question; if there is another person involved, then remember, you cannot control their behaviour. You can request, cajole or even threaten (not recommended) but ultimately you are only responsible for your own behaviour.

So, if you cannot change the situation, then change the way you think about it, and change the way you react to it.

This brings us to the third question, do I believe enough in my own abilities?

Only you can answer that, but look at the facts.

  • What made you, or someone else, think that you could perform this task in the first place?
  • What has your history been in this area up to now?
  • And if the answer here is “not so good”, then what have you learnt from that, and what are you going to do differently this time?

Everyone makes mistakes; it’s what you learn from them that’s important.

Finally, what is the worst-case-scenario?

Surprisingly few problems do actually come to that, but if it does, can you deal with it?

Do you have a Plan B?

If so, then just knowing that can make a difference in how you view the problem.

If you don’t have a Plan B, or the worst-case-scenario is something you just can’t contemplate, then perhaps it’s time to think about some professional help.

There are all kinds of Counselors, Life Coaches, Debt Advisers and other professionals in whatever area your problem lies.

You will find that you’re not alone. There is always someone else, in fact often lots of someone elses, out there with the same problem.

The first thing most people say when they seek professional help is: “I believed I was the only one, until now.”


Now we come to that list of things you feel you must do.

  • Take a look at each one and spend some time thinking about it.
  • Do I really have to do this?
  • What will happen if I don’t?
  • Am I doing it because someone else wants or expects it?
  • Am I doing it because I believe that someone else wants or expects it?

See if you can reduce the list somewhat.

  • Or if you still feel you have to do them all, then see if you can enlist some help
  • Or reduce the time spent at each activity,
  • Or the number of times per day/week/month etc.
  • If you still feel you can’t do anything to change things, then once again, it’s time to change how you think and feel about it.
  • Find the positives about the activity or chore, and focus on them.

4. Most Important Tasks

This is actually an exercise that’s good to do every day.

  • What absolutely must be done today?
  • If there’s more than one, then prioritize.
  • Whatever’s at the top of your list, ask yourself, “how long will this take?”
  • If the answer is an hour or less, then put that time aside.
  • Of course, emergencies do occur and you may be disturbed, but if this is the case, then put all of your work so far into a separate file and make a quick note of where you are, or put your tools or instruments somewhere within easy reach, so that you can easily return and complete the task as soon as possible.
  • If the task is likely to take more than an hour, then break it down into hour-long chunks.
  • Spend an hour working on it as above, then go check your emails, return calls, have lunch or whatever else needs to be taken care of, and return to the task for another hour.
  • Focus like this until the task is completed, then move on to the next most important task on your list.

5. How much do you value your time?

Feeling overwhelmed by work is a major cause of stress.

But do you need to look at who is putting the demands on you and why?

  • Is it because you are the only one who can do the work, for contractual or other reasons, or is it because you can’t or won’t say No?
  • Are others loading the work onto you because they value their own time more than yours?
  • If someone asks you to carry out a task that they could just as easily do themselves, then perhaps you need to learn to say no.

There are several ways of doing this whilst remaining polite.

You can say something like,

“I’ll try to do that for you, if I get the chance. But I have so many other things to do (and there’s no need to list them, necessarily) I may not get the time, so perhaps it would be better for you to do it, so as to be sure it will get done.”

Remember, you are just as entitled to leisure time, and/ or time with your family or friends, as anyone else.

Is stress having a negative impact?

Stress can be such a part of our everyday life that we don’t even notice it until something finally pushes it into the open.

It might manifest as anything from a moment of intense irritation to a full-blown panic attack, and anything in between.

But if you’re reading this hub, then you are aware that stress is having a negative impact on you or someone close to you, and that it’s time to do something about it.

My gift to you-a relaxing mindfulness meditation to get you in the mood for Contemplation


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    • EmerKelly profile image

      Emer Kelly 5 years ago from Saint Petersburg, Florida

      Fantastic hub. Great and useful advice. I'll look out for more from you in the future!

    • gregoriom profile image

      Deninson Mota 5 years ago from East Elmhurst, NY


      This is awesome. My priority right now is to be in a desert island to take my mind off the BS. Lol, but seriously very well done.

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

      This is a brilliant exercise in mindfullness...well done! I am saving this and sharing...awesome!!!