Live Your Best Life: Think Like a Tree

This past year has been monumental for me — many big life goals are coming to fruition which inevitably has me thinking about the next 5, 10, 20-plus years.

I’ve also been much less goal-oriented over the past few years due to working on much bigger ideas compared to college or the first few years of working.

So that got me thinking: what is a good way to think about personal growth without setting concrete goals? As well as what is a good perspective to think about other people’s growth, like employees, family, or a community as a whole?

The model I’m currently exploring is thinking of personal growth in terms of a tree. Trees are great holistic metaphors — they require an ever growing root structure to support bigger growth of what is visible to the outer world. Trees usually also grow within a forest, too. If the environment is good for one tree, then it’s scalable for a whole forest.

Here’s how I’m applying the tree metaphor to my life:

The Roots: The Behind-the-Scenes Growth

Roots are underground and aren’t seen by others. These are the things you grow in a morning routine, after working hours, or on the weekends.

My morning routine:

  • Exercise: Being healthy reduces stress, increases concentration, and has long term implications that are immeasurable.
  • Healthy Diet: Same as exercise. Your overall health compounds the growth of your life.
  • Breathing Sessions (Meditation): Take 2–10 minutes to close your eyes, breathe, and give your mind a rest. Over time, this prepares you to be grounded during the situations where your input is needed most.
  • Maintaining a Personal Mission Statement: Picture the people who matter the most to you at your funeral. How do you want them to remember you? Write down a few attributes for each important person / group of people. Review this regularly and try to improve on those things. This idea is from a 99u video called “Begin with the End” from Ryan Carson.
  • 5-minute Gratitude Journal: List three things you’re grateful for, three things that would make today great, and write down a daily affirmation. You’re setting a positive tone for the day.

Nights and weekends:

  • Incremental Learning: Lifelong learning is the only sure way to keep up in a rapidly changing world. Right now I’m taking a frontend development course through teamtreehouse.com.
  • Reading: Pick anything and finish it. Do this regularly.
  • Maintaining Savings: Growing your savings gives you more freedom and security.
  • Philosophical or Spiritual Studies: I’m getting more into Stoic philosophy and view it as a lightweight life operating system that keeps me grounded.
  • People Skills / Upkeep: Read about personality theories, relationship management type things, or find ideas for social get togethers etc. and reflect on what you can do to create stronger bonds.

If you are growing your roots, then you’re setting yourself up for healthy, sustainable tree branch growth.

The Tree Branches: Outward Growth in the World

The tree branches of this model are the things people see about you and what you put out in the world.

Think of them like opportunities you explore. Some of them won’t become defining branches in your life. Others will become massive defining features.

These include:

  • Relationships, which include family, friends, business partners, co-workers, professional contacts, and acquaintances. Only a select few will actually become large branches on your tree. Others will only be small twigs, and many won’t turn into any branches. That’s ok.
  • Creative Outlets: Doesn’t need to be a normal definition of art like painting or drawing. Writing a Medium post, buying a print from your favorite artist, making dinner for friends are considered art in my book.
  • Travel: Go out and explore the world.
  • Bliss Moments: Don’t just ask yourself what makes you happy. Ask yourself what makes a moment blissful for you. For me, that usually involves these four things: music, friends, laughing until I can’t breathe, and a new/novel experience (like traveling, trying a new local restaurant, etc.). Once you know this, how do you make more of these happen?
  • New Business Ideas: Find problems to solve or opportunities to apply your perspective/skills. Perhaps you can create a business model. Or just keep yourself open to new job opportunities. Diversify your output for greater freedom and security.
  • Community Participating: Pay attention to what’s happening in your neighborhood, city, state, country, planet. Be an active citizen, share your voice, go vote.
  • Apply Newly Acquired Skills: Learning a new skill isn’t much useful if you don’t use it.

The Bigger Your Tree, the Longer You Live

There’s a quote I think about often:

“Everyone dies twice. Once when you physically die. The second time when the last person speaks your name.”

If you want to live longer, the key is to grow your branches as far reaching as you can. In order to sustain large branch growth though, you need deep, strong roots.

Your goal is to create a long-lasting, healthy tree that will outlast even you. If we all did that, we’d create a stronger sustainable world.