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“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

—Aristotle

I just read a book of advice for writers that had a lot of advice about how you need to make a 5 year plan, and an advance PR campaign, strategize with bullet points, and stuff like that.  Which is all fine, but for a lot of creative types it is unrealistic. We tend to be storytellers more than list makers.

Here is an exercise you can do that gives you all of the benefits of planning out what you want to do, but it harnesses the power of story telling and visualization. It just requires  few minutes and a pencil and paper. I call it Self Fulfilling prophecy and it works exactly like it sounds. You visualize what you want to have happen—whatever you would like to achieve and then you work back from there visualizing the story of how you got there.

I have found this exercise to be really helpful, not just in clarifying what you want but how you can go about making it happen. This is also a fun exercise because it rewards you for daydreaming: we all like to daydream about what it would be like if we accomplished everything we wanted, but this exercise walks you through the step that will turn the daydream into a reality.

STEP ONE

Visualize you optimal self one year from now. Imagine yourself in 365 days you achieved all of your goals, if you followed all of your dreams, if you went after everything you could and had bottomless energy, resolve, and discipline. Spend just a few minutes doing this and then write down what you see. For some people this might mean career or personal goals. For other people maybe you see yourself traveling, or achieving some fitness goal, or you see yourself getting somewhere with a creative project: for me that is usually writing, but for you it could be anything you are working on.

Now that you have pictured your ideal year, imagine that you are sitting down to write about it. Fill a page. Write about your achievement, and how you feel to have accomplished it. This exercise doesn’t focus on any one thing, but everything. You are writing a summary of where you are in life over all. This could include any number of hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations. For example, let’s say it is your goal to get into better shape, and a year from now you want to be able to run a marathon. You might write “I successfully ran a marathon, and I’m in the the best shape of my life.” Here is the most important part: you also want to write down exactly what you did to achieve your goal. So for the marathon example you might write “I was able to run the marathon by sticking to a good schedule of daily running, week after week. Slowly and steadily increasing my mileage, so that by the time the marathon rolled around, I was ready for it.” (the goal could be anything, if you already run marathons it could be a faster finish time)

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Use this basic formula: what you see yourself achieving, how you felt about it, and what you did to get there, for anything you want. It could be career, goals, it could be relationship goals, quitting smoking, eating right, becoming a master ping pong player. Whatever. It works the same : visualize reaching your goal and visualize the work it took to get there.

Step 2

From there you just have to walk it back to the present. Repeat the exercise but for the present month. So if your goal is to run the marathon you would write down something like “by the end of this month, I am running pretty regularly, 3-4 times a week, and have gotten to the point of it being something I do most mornings without thinking twice. I already can feel myself getting a little faster and sleeker!”

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Then walk it back one more step to the end of the week: what you see yourself accomplishing by the end of this week that will flow into your vision for the month. Finally ask yourself what you could be doing today that will align with the vision that you have laid out for the week, the month, and the year. In our example of the person that wants to run a marathon, it probably simply means going for a run. But whatever your goals and dreams are, you can start today taking that first step. And with this exercise you will see exactly how that first step leads you along the path to your big picture dreams and goals.

It is a very simple exercise, but it is surprisingly powerful because it engages the mind at not just a planning level, but an imaginative and story telling level. It is both inspiring, and it helps us iron out the nuts and bolts of the plan as needed. The ultimate take away of this exercise is that your dreams can come true—if you make them happen.

Final tips

1. Go big. Be ambitious. If your goal is something too huge to realistically be accomplished in one year give yourself more time. Maybe it means picturing yourself where you want to be five years from now? The secret to achieving big dreams is that a little bit of daily work accrued over a long amount of time can accomplish anything!

2. Write this down. Don’t just try to do this in your head. Writing it down will keep it concrete, and you will want to check back on your plan from time to time for inspiration.

3. I recommend repeating the process about once a month, to stay on track and adjust as needed.

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