How I live my life by design
You would plan a big holiday. You would plan a presentation. You would plan a wedding, a birthday, a dinner, a meeting. But do you have a plan for your life? If not, why not? You make plans for all of the things you deem important, but what’s more important than your life?
According to a Harvard study, fewer than 3 percent of people have written goals, which means a staggering 97 percent are leaving their single most important project to chance. Why do we do this? And I say “we” because up until about 3 years ago, I was one of the 97 percent. Probably because it seems like hard work, I mean who has time to write down targets and review them daily, after the incredibly time-intensive and brain-melting task of actually figuring out what it is you actually want?
So don’t do it that way. Just writing that almost sent me to sleep. I want to share a bit about how I “set goals” using a process from Using a Bug Free Mind by Andy Shaw, which is Part 2 of a two-part thinking system. And you’ll see how I basically ignore everything we are told about goal-setting. Firstly, I don’t call it goal-setting, I call it Life Design. Why does that matter? Because goal-setting sounds like work to me, and creating designs sounds fun, creative and like playing at a hobby rather than forcing myself to do something boring that I think I should do.
Secondly, you can throw the concept of ‘SMART’ goals out the window (or defenestrate if you prefer, which is just the coolest word). For those not familiar with SMART, it stands for ‘Specific’, ‘Measurable’, ‘Achievable’, ‘Relevant’, ‘Time-bound’. Let’s use an example of a goal I set a couple of years ago (it has been swirling around in my brain for longer than that, but it was properly defined in 2017). The goal was to start a business and work for myself from home. I wrote “I have my own business and I work for myself from home”. I had no idea how or what kind of work I would do i.e. not specific at all.
I did not include any measurable metrics or data, my only marker for evaluating success was to start a business and work from home. Achievable? Hmmm. Around last year I was re-reading Andy’s work (as I do many times a year) and he suggested for the really big designs to think about what a partially-realised goal would look like. So I set a sub-goal to work part-time whilst getting my business off the ground. I decided I wanted to work in my old office at two pay grades higher than I was previously. Seeing as this job didn’t exist, along with the fact I hadn’t even decided what type of business I was going to run, you could definitely say my goal was not at all achievable.
The relevant part of SMART means keeping it within the scope of your own work…oops failed there too, and I most certainly did not put a time-limit on this goal and I never would. Who I am to say when the orchestration of the infinity of tiny details to bring about my desire should be completed? And do I review them daily? No freaking way man, I barely have time to go to the toilet. I add to this design when I feel inspired to and I’ve only read it in full once or twice. So my way is definitely not SMART.
Now that we’ve established “goal-setting” is boring, time-consuming and hard work, let’s get back to life design. Notice my design is written in the first person and in the present tense. As far as I’m concerned, it has already happened. Once I’ve written it down, I write down why I desire this. I write down the benefits of realising this dream. I write down how grateful I am now that I have achieved this design. Then, I write down every single tiny detail to flesh out this design to the point where it is so vivid and real in my mind that I cannot not achieve it. I visualise it. I wrote down everything from the clothes I wear to the kind of desk I have. I wrote about the impact I would have with my work and the kind of people I would be around. I wrote that my dog keeps me company whilst I work - we did not have a dog at the time and were living in a rented flat which did not allow pets. I wrote about the part-time, higher paid job I had in my old office – the job that didn’t exist. I wrote a few possible routes to achieve my goal; not a concrete plan but something to allow my mind to conceive it would be possible. One day after a conversation with a friend who mentioned maybe training as a yoga teacher one day, I casually threw in a possible route in my designs which involved attending a yoga teacher training in a beautiful location, making some awesome business connections which would open doors for me and working part-time whilst I built a business.
About a month later my favourite yoga teacher announced she was leading her first YTT in Thailand, the dates of which suited me perfectly. I became a certified yoga teacher in a gorgeous jungle paradise, I started my business EARTHyoga when I got back, I was invited by Candace to teach at her training in Santorini, two days ago I interviewed for a part-time role in my old office at the exact pay grade I wanted (designed) and was offered the job and, as I write all of this, there is an adorable sleeping pup who looks a bit more like a fox curled up next to me.
Imagine if I based my designs only on what I thought was achievable given my current circumstances. I wouldn’t be living the life I dreamed of. I wouldn’t have everything I want. I wouldn’t have discovered the true extent of my creative power and I wouldn’t have found my purpose, which would have been the saddest thing of all.
I am not a lucky person, I am no smarter than you, I am no better than you, my life is not the result of a string of coincidences and I am not naturally charmed. I use my natural inherent ability to achieve success, which we all have by virtue of the fact that we’re human. If I can do it, anyone can. But until you define exactly what it is you desire (think about trying to go on a journey when you haven’t decided where you’re going), how would you even know if an opportunity came your way? You wouldn’t recognise it if it came and sat on your face. And yes, work is required, but after you’ve made a plan of what you’re trying to achieve; it is secondary. You would plan a novel before writing it, so make a plan for your life before you try to write the rest of your story.
Don’t worry about getting this wrong. You can’t. Just write something down. You can write in prose, you can use bullet points, you can use diagrams, whatever speaks to you. Just get your ideas out of your head and onto paper whichever way works. Then, you refine it.
Your designs do not have to be perfect and will most likely not be fully-defined the first time you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). They are ALL a work in progress. I add to mine all the time as circumstances change. They are fluid and dynamic, just like you.
Everything is in the present tense. It has happened and is your reality. No hoping, wishing, needing, wanting. It is done.
Add in as much detail as you can. You really cannot overdo this. The more detail you have, the more real this will feel.
Make your designs as visually appealing as you like. As you can see from the image above mine are different colours and I’ve added vision boards to some of them.
Visualisation and gratitude are key here. When I had fully defined my design last year, I sat and visualised what my life would be like so vividly that I had tears of joy in my eyes. True story.
Have fun. This is a creative process. I don’t set goals, I play with my designs. When it starts to feel like work, put it down and pick it back up when you feel inspired.
Writing the design will create opportunities – you still need to do the work. Act intuitively, but act. You will not automatically be handed something because you wrote it down. I may have seemingly created the job I wanted out of thin air, but I still had to apply for it and interview against other candidates. I created a YTT in my reality but I worked my ass off every day I was there and have been doing since I got back.
You do have time for this, because this is the most important thing you will do. Until you define what it is you want, you will never have time because you will be too busy dealing with the repercussions of living your life by accident instead of living your life on purpose. Most problems result from a lack of forward planning.
Review them when you feel inspired; do not force anything.