Health | February 14, 2017
In order to improve our quality of life, we must first determine what our goals and desires are and then put a plan into place to work toward achieving those goals. With each of our long term goals comes many choices and decisions, from what to try to how much effort to put forth. By assessing your current quality of life, you can focus on bridging the gaps and take advantage of opportunities you have to make improvements.
Understand the aspects of your life and experiences that most closely relate with the quality of life you desire.
Which of your behaviors impact your quality of life? A few decades of research on what correlates most with quality of life gives us categories as listed below with a useful mnemonic of 'PERMA' 
- P: Positive emotions: The moments consisting of positive moods, perspectives, or sensations, including feelings of happiness, gratitude, closeness, confidence, peace, hope, and inspiration.
- E: Engagement: Periods of time when we are so caught up in the moment or activity we are working on that we have clarity and focus, time seems less relevant, and we are risen to our best. This is frequently associated with 'Eustress', which is the polar opposite of distress.
- R: Relationships: The quality of our relationships is very highly interwoven with our overall quality of life. The strength of our social support structure or 'Personal Safety Net'  is fundamental to many of our coping skills. Resiliency when facing challenges in our lives often stems from past or present interactions. Our relationships may contribute to our quality of life and invoke positive emotions. There are a select few who thrive more abundantly in solitude or in the company of an animal or pet. Often, these individuals focus on their relationship with themselves rather than with those around them.
- M: Meaning: How well our work and personal relationships relate to our ideas of fulfilling a "greater purpose," contribute enormously to our self esteem and confidence to continue to strive. The opposite is a feeling that we are wasting our time on trivial tasks that do not contribute to a greater cause. A sense of meaning is often easier to come by if what we do somehow contributes to the needs of a community we are a part of.
- A: Accomplishment: A sense of accomplishment is closely tied to how efficiently we are able to complete our "to do" lists. But, it can also include the simple positive emotion that comes from completing an already-solved problem like a sudoku puzzle, or level of a video game. 
- H: Health: Not referenced in the original list, but worth including here, is the quality of our physical well-being, including how much pain we are in, how much mobility we have, and what our physical capabilities are. According to Gallups' research on global well being, the quality of our sleep plays a critical role in overall quality of life - if we are not getting enough quality rest, we are far more likely to be emotionally overwhelmed and, in turn, less productive.
Explore how your mind makes choices. We make many many choices every day that affect our quality of life, but most of our routines (how we start our day, what we choose to eat) and standard reactions (eating when we are anxious, cursing at other drivers if they frustrate us) are made on autopilot.
Analytical thinking and planning is required to measurably change any of our autopilot habits (how we choose our food) or response patterns (how we respond to frustration while driving). Triggering cognitive thinking in time to make better choices is a fundamental skill. For example, if you can feel your emotions starting to take over, you have a limited window of time in which you can ask yourself strategic questions and make better choices about how to best respond to the situation.
Describe your ideal quality of life with those aspects as categories.
What habits do you wish you had? How do you wish you could respond in challenging situations? What would a perfect day entail and what would you eliminate? Take five minutes now to write up short wish lists with what you would want in each category.
- Start a gratitude journal or a 'satisfaction index' in your diary as a useful way to keep track of your goals. Make a short list of what you are grateful for in your life within these categories. Regularly quantify your current status within each of the categories/aspects by asking yourself: where are the smallest and largest gaps?
- Research to help you on your journey. There is a wide range of online sources as well as formal coaching and educational courses. Ask yourself - what have you done in the past to help bridge those gaps? What have others done?
Brainstorm your list of specific goals that, if successfully completed, would help you eliminate the gaps in your quality of life.
Convert your goals into SMART goals: SMART
is a helpful guideline to be able to make your goals easier to achieve. S
- Experiment with options for making progress on those goals. What triggers or prompts will help you remember to follow through on your intentions? Consider focusing on the easiest task first  to get momentum going to improve your life.
Collaborate with others in your experiments.
If you want to change a frequent daily habit, like eating healthier or exercising, partnering with people around you makes it easier to succeed. This becomes critical if their behaviors affect yours and vice versa - work together to design experiments you can try together. 
- For example, one of the easiest ways to eat healthier at home is to reduce the availability of unhealthy food in the home. When you are at a grocery store, you can reduce the temptations of unhealthy food by only shopping in the perimeter aisles unless there's something you absolutely need in one of the center aisles.
Evaluate the results of your experiments. Consider using a daily journal to capture your intentions for the day. Make a list right away in the morning and, in the evening, review and reflect on the results of the day. Each consecutive day, you can then make improvements toward achieving your goals. If you're collaborating with a partner, make time to review results together. As you fall asleep and drift into an alpha state of consciousness, you may find your mind more capable of epiphanies on how to approach your goals in more productive ways.
Plan for productive failure.
Experimenting with change does not mean you have to adhere to every plan. Figuring out what doesn't work is a huge part of figuring out what does. 
- Try to remember things vary from person to person. A very general formula like this one may be adjusted to fit your lifestyle. Either way, never give up and never stop trying.