This article originally appeared in Forbes.
My friend Veronica’s holiday card was a charming, tongue-and cheek trip through the highs and lows of the last year. It concluded with the line “Here’s hoping 2018 is more like the first 20 days of 2017.” Each of the (six) times I’ve reread her letter, I’ve gotten the giggles.
Levity is particularly refreshing this time of year, when #NewYearsResolutions is trending and everyone is feeling pressured into self-improvement.
Since New Year’s resolutions so often fade and fizzle, consider taking a longer view in order to create the life you want to lead.
First, consider what you already enjoy doing. Have you ever experienced moments when you’re so engrossed in an activity that it fully absorbs your attention, nothing else seems to matter, and you lose track of time?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this being “in flow.” He writes,
Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone”, religious mystics as “ecstasy”, artists and musicians as “aesthetic rapture”. We can be happy experiencing the passive pleasure of a rested body, warm sunshine, or the contentment of a serene relationship, but this kind of happiness is dependent on favorable external circumstances. The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness.
Happiness of our own making and growth in consciousness – sounds pretty good, right?
Professionally, I’m most “in flow” when I lead keynote presentations that allow me to connect meaningfully with the audience. It’s important to note, however, that those moments of fulfillment and immersion can happen in our personal lives as well. For me, they stem from meaningful conversation and connection with people I love or time spent with a great work of fiction.
We can’t expect to be “in flow” all the time, but reflecting about the activities in which we find ourselves most immersed and engaged can help us understand what brings us fulfilment.
By starting with moments you’re “in flow”, the following exercise will help you begin to identify the qualities of your ideal, most meaningful life 10 years from now.
It’s a great exercise to try with a buddy, but it works as a solo reflection tool too.
Spend 10 minutes journaling about the following qualities of your ideal, most meaningful life 10 years from now. In each section, consider each facet of your life: volunteer, personal, social, familial, and professional.
What: What are you doing when you feel most in your element or fulfilled? Focus on activities – how you would like to spend your time. Start by looking back at times you’ve felt “in flow” and expand out to other activities that bring fulfilment, even if you’re not “in the zone” or in “ecstasy” while they’re happening.
Where: Where do you belong? Where do you live, work, and relax? Think about both where you are geographically and the environment itself. Use your senses to characterize the experience and make the place come alive.
Who: Who do you want to surround yourself with? What role do you have in these people’s lives, and what role do they have in yours? Consider both specific people and the qualities you want your relationships to have. What type of person inspires you to be your best self? Who do you want to serve?
Why: Why do you spend your time this way? What gives your life meaning? How do you spend your time? How are you connected to the things you value, what you’re good at, and what the world needs? What causes or issues do you want to address?
2. Design Your Perfect Day
Envision your life 10 years from now, and create a vision of your Perfect Day. Consult the exercise above to identify the activities, setting, relationships, and purpose that create this most fulfilling existence. Consider how your personal values align with this vision – perhaps you want to be of service, to make a lot of money, or to have an impact.
Use the present tense to create a narrative of this day, and be as descriptive as possible. Who’s with you, where are you and what are you doing? Paint a picture, like a scene from a movie with a lot of detail, where people can feel and imagine themselves in this snapshot of a single day in your most fulfilling life.
If you feel stuck, try this: 10 years from now, your alarm goes at 6am (or at a time that is ideal for you). What does a meaningful day look like between your alarm going off and falling comfortably to sleep? What happens in between?
3. Reflection Exercise
If you have a trusted friend handy who can do the exercise with you, share your Perfect Days with one another. Strive to approach the conversation with an open mind and spirit of curiosity. This isn’t an interrogation; the goal here is to be supportive thought partners to one another, so plan to ask and receive both questions and encouragement.
If you’re flying solo, that’s fine too. Ask yourself the same questions and give yourself space to reflect. Perhaps you’ll surprise yourself.
Whether you’re with a buddy or working independently, the goal is to clarify your thinking about your Perfect Day.
- Why do you want _____? [Look at specific aspects of the Perfect Day such as location, people, activities.]
- What will you need to give up to achieve your Perfect Day?
- What additional work would you like to do on your Perfect Day?
- What’s one thing you plan to do to introduce elements of your Perfect Day into your life right now?
Once you’ve concluded the reflection exercise, you’ll have identified many qualities of your ideal, most meaningful life 10 years from now.
I’ve used variations on this activity with clients and to craft my own vision of the future for the past several years. It helped me identify a long-term vision for how I want my life to look and to see the many ways I already have elements of my ideal life today.
As you plan for next year, try this exercise to get beyond New Year’s resolutions toward a more fulfilling vision of your life long term.