Imagine if I picked you up from your house and drove you to the airport so you could catch a flight, but you had not yet decided where to go. You might get lucky and have a wonderful adventure, but chances are that your trip will be costlier and more difficult, and you will waste a lot of time.
Few people would consider heading to the airport without a travel plan, but lots of people travel through life with no clear idea of where they want to go or how they plan to get there. Life is our most important adventure, so it’s critical for you to develop a clear picture of the future you want and create a map to get you there. We are always moving towards something. Be aware of what you are aiming at. Aim with purpose.
The following one-hour exercise, inspired by “Self Authoring” at https://selfauthoring.com/, helped me record a clear vision of the future I want to create and set goals to help make my vision a reality. As you start this process, remember these important elements for success:
- Do schedule a full hour when people are least likely to need to reach you.
- Do go to the place where you concentrate best.
- Do write everything down.
- Don’t worry about format, spelling, or grammar.
- Don’t check your phone or otherwise allow yourself to get distracted during your allotted time.
- Don’t allow other people’s goals or vision for you influence your writing.
Step 1. Envision the future you want to build
Time: 20 minutes
Close your eyes and spend a few minutes daydreaming about your ideal future. Consider all aspects of your life, including career, relationships, health, family, home, location, finances, and lifestyle. Spend some time imagining what your typical day looks like. Concentrate on the end state, not the process of getting there. How many years into the future are you looking? Be ambitious and don’t hold back on your vision. After a few minutes, start writing, but keep daydreaming. Write about your imagined ideal future and describe it in great detail. If you feel blocked, just force yourself to keep writing and let your imagination go.
Step 2. Picture the future you want to avoid
Time: 20 minutes
Now spend some time defining the life you want to avoid at all costs. Fearing this negative vision and associated potential threats will help motivate you to make good decisions. You know your weaknesses and bad habits better than anyone, and you can imagine what would happen if you fail to follow your dreams and instead allow your worst impulses to guide your actions. Imagine falling prey to indecision, vices, a lack of self-discipline, and bad decision-making. Describe this future state in as much detail as possible, considering all aspects of your life, such as work, health, relationships, finances, etc.
Step 3. Set goals
Time: 20 minutes
Goals are the milestones on your map that can help you reach your desired destination. Annually set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Only create goals that you have the power to accomplish; avoid goals that would require specific action by someone else. Create clear and concise one-year goals that are aligned with the future you want to build for each of the following categories: career, relationships, health, finances, learning, and experiences.
Here are examples of my 2019 goals.
Option 1. Identify, research, and test ideas for new startup company by end of Q2. Launch new company in Q3.
Option 2. Identify and research existing startup companies in Q1 and Q2. Contact company founders in Q2 to explore potential opportunities with target companies. Execute employment agreement by end of Q3.
Create a date night at least one time per month.
Attend one couples’ workshop.
Schedule one-on-one with a friend at least two times per month.
Exercise 1 hour per day, six days per week.
Meditate 10 minutes per day, six days per week.
Drink no alcohol during the workweek, in the entire month of January, and one additional month during the second half of the year.
Tally all 2018 expenses and create a monthly budget by January 31.
Read a book for 30 minutes per day, six days per week.
Listen to educational podcasts for 1 hour per day, six days per week.
Write for 1 hour per day, five days per week.
Take at least one international trip for a minimum of seven days.
Final Step. Solicit feedback
After completing the one-hour exercise, schedule time to meet with at least two people you trust and share your written visions and goals. Feedback is crucial because it can help ensure you are not missing anything because of any possible blind spot(s). It also ensures that your assumptions are well-grounded. Ask anyone giving feedback to be as honest and direct as possible. Update your written responses as appropriate after those conversations.
This one-hour process helps you plan your trip before you get to the airport. By daydreaming and writing detailed descriptions and goals, you can clarify the future you want to build and map the milestones to get to your desired destination. I find it useful to spend a few minutes at the start of each month looking at my goals as a reminder of both my vision and the path I should be taking. Being able to review my goals keeps me accountable and is another benefit of writing them down. Aim with purpose. We are always moving towards something. Be aware of what you are aiming at.