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9 Tips for Identifying and Living Your Priorities

Several years ago career advisor Laura Yamin, MA, noticed that she was experiencing way too many burnouts. She realized that she needed to stop focusing on urgent requests, which masqueraded as important things. Instead, she refocused on exploring the type of life she’d like to live.

This helped her figure out what’s truly important to her. From there she was able to distinguish her priorities — the tasks, experiences and actions that fulfill her personal values.

Many of us feel like we’re being pulled by pressing things, while our real priorities get neglected.

“In my work, I find that many people are ‘reactors,’” said therapist Melody Wilding, LMSW. “That is, they live their life responding to the priorities other people set for them, rather than priorities they have defined as important to themselves.” Many spend most of their days answering email, calls, invitations and demands from other people, whether it’s their boss or their family, she said.

Not surprisingly, this leads to dissatisfaction and disillusionment, Wilding said. Because if you value family, but you’re working 70 hours every week, you’ll likely feel a lot of internal stress and conflict, she said.

However, “priorities give you the opportunity to exercise personal choice and live out your values on a daily basis.”

Below, Wilding and Yamin shared their suggestions for discovering and living your priorities.

1. Name your values.

Often instead of exploring our own values, we default to the values of our family or culture, Wilding said. Take the time to consider what’s important to you, what you stand for and what you believe in, she said.

Avoid focusing on external rewards, such as “money, status or others’ approval.” Avoid “basing [your] priorities on what [you] believe [you] ‘should’ do.”

2. Do the “maintain, improve, change” test.

Wilding suggested reflecting on the past 6 months. “Write down what you want to maintain, improve or change across the various domains of your well-being: relationships, health, finances, work, spirituality and personal life.”

Then go through what you’ve written, and create specific actions. Wilding shared these examples: Because finding a new job is a priority, you decide to schedule a coffee date each week with colleagues and mentors to network. Because spending quality time with your partner is a priority, you decide to spend 30 minutes together after work — no distractions.

3. Test-drive different styles.

To live based on your priorities, test out different ways of working with goals or maintaining habits, Wilding said. Try something new for 30 to 90 days, such as learning a new language or training for a race, she said. Or start small — “what B.J. Fogg calls ‘tiny habits.’” For instance, your goal is to build a reading habit. You start by reading a single page or even a single paragraph each night, she said.

4. Use the “Rule of 3s.”

Our priorities tend to fall apart when we overestimate how much we can do in a day, Wilding said. That’s why she suggested limiting yourself to three things that match your priorities. “Anything you accomplish above that is gravy!”

9 Tips for Identifying and Living Your Priorities

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 9 Tips for Identifying and Living Your Priorities. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.