Design Your Life
o you ever ask yourself, “Am I doing this right? Does my life have to be this way?”
One of my clients, Suzanne, was a professional with a great job and a healthy family. Attractive, well-educated, respected by colleagues and known for being organized and responsible, she felt at the end of each day is if an alarm were going off, and she was not able to place its source. Despite being well organized, Suzanne was constantly putting out fires at home and at work, but in doing so she gave away her power; the need to react prevented her from taking charge. Self-help books hadn’t worked—they just sent her in circles—and in our first meeting she told me, “This not the way I want to live my life.”
Perhaps, like Suzanne, you’ve gone back and forth with yourself over how to get where you want to be. Maybe you feel drained after a long day. You realize you have been feeling this way for a long time. You wonder when you last felt inspired. Are you trying hard but not getting anywhere?
I’ve Been There
My life has had its share of upheaval. In my hardest moments, I began to believe that Fate was in charge, and I was just along for the ride. I felt I did not have the power to apply the brakes or alter the course of events. Choice and change felt like luxuries. And yet, my life depended on making them!
I am a person who loves certainty, continuity, and creativity in safe spaces. The fact that I had no idea how to go about changing things for the better felt scary. This was exactly the opportunity I needed for some deep learning.
The Benefits of Designing Your Life
Here is what I learned: when you take the time to design your life, you transform your own experience.
You find yourself inspired in your career, taking more vacations, and enjoying happier relationships with your partner and children. You may be earning more, developing community around you, and taking calculated risks to grow your skills. You notice an absence of inner conflict and an abundance of possibility.
It’s a magical feeling to realize that your actions and values line up with who you are. It feels like coming home—to yourself!
Listen to Your Gut
Trust your gut. You can rely on it to tell you the absolute truth about what is right for you. What is it saying to you as you read this? Are you prepared to act on those insights?
Sometimes uncertainty stops us from making choices for ourselves. Instead, we let things happen to us—and find ourselves missing out on the best parts of life. We miss the joy and beauty in the faces of small children. We miss the softness of moss under our feet and the fresh scent of cedar. We miss the lessons that would develop our inner wisdom. We get to the end of our lives wondering, “Did I live the life that was most meaningful to me?”
So, how DO we create a better life?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not about making our lives easier (although there is nothing wrong with that!) The key is to build the skills for resilience, joy, and achievement, no matter what life brings. Designing your life simply means taking charge and being awake to it.
“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for fewer problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”
– Jim Rohn
No Roadmap Required
Feeling confused? Relax. This is a great place to start.
It turns out, you don’t need a crystal-clear roadmap for the rest of your life. Our brains don’t work that way. A 20 year-old’s brain cannot conceive of how the 40 year-old version will see the world.
When I was 20, I saw my life as a series of carefully thought-out steps: law school, then law practice. It was narrowly-defined, prescriptive, and safe. At 40, I recognized that a more authentic career choice would draw on all my strengths and interests: intellectual, emotional and spiritual. There were no wrong turns—just the best choices in the moment for that time in my life. As Churchill said, “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”
Like all good processes, there is no one roadmap that suits every person, but there are some guidelines that can help change your life for the better.
6 STEPS TO TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE
1 Invite Yourself to Sit With Your Discomfort
Do not be afraid of discomfort. It holds a wealth of great information about what is true for you and what is not. Trust the struggle. Then ask yourself the following:
- Who do I want to be?
- What gives me energy? What depletes it?
- What am I pretending not to know?
- What would I love to do if I knew no one was judging me?
- What would I do if I had 5 billion dollars?
- If I knew I could not fail, what risk would I take?
- What am I avoiding by staying on my current path?
- What permission do I need or want in order to move forward?
- What if I had no limits?
2 Dive Into What is Most Meaningful to You
Positive Psychology has identified certain benchmarks for a happy life. Chief among them is to work towards something bigger than yourself. "Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are." - Martin Seligman (2002, p. 263)
Ask yourself the following:
- What is bigger than you?
- What matters deeply?
- When you feel warm and fuzzy, what are you doing?
- When you feel inspired and energized, what are you doing?
- What is happening in your life when you feel connected?
Make this list quickly. If you start overthinking it, ground yourself in your body. What sensations do you notice?
3 Choose What You Pay Attention To
You make many small decisions—and some big ones!—every single day. Own them by being more mindful about what you choose to do. For example, you get to choose what you pay attention to:
- How often you smile
- What you spend time on
- How much attention you give your loved ones
- How often you think about your past
- How present you are in any given moment
- What appointments to keep or cancel
- What books to read or ideas to embrace
- Whether to judge yourself or others
- Whether to be aware or not
- Whether to surround yourself with positivity or negativity
To choose mindfully is to create the life you want. Ask yourself, “Am I doing what will lead me to my goal? Am I giving my attention to what matters most right now? Is there a decision I am not making?”
4 Take Action—Today is the Best Day
People have a tendency to wait for just the right conditions before taking action. The truth is, the best time to act is right now. After all, now is all we have! And only action can create the changes we want.
Action can mean changing your self-talk from, “I don’t see how this is going to happen” to, “I can and I will!”
It can also mean taking small actions when the larger goal seems overwhelming. For example, if you want to change your job, start with some research online. Read it. Resist pressuring yourself into making a decision. You will know when the next best action is needed.
5 Be Open to Detours; Trust the Process
Engineers and designers trust their process; so do therapists and teachers. You can too by being open to paths you might not have considered before. You can always change your mind! Designing your life is about keeping the goal in mind, but being flexible in how you get there.