by André D. Ferreira
Ten years seems like a really long time. But ask anyone how fast the last ten years passed by and most will tell you they zapped quickly. This article contains an exercise part of which I first learned about from a podcast of Debbie Millman with Tim Ferriss . Since then I have used it to goal possible lives that would be enjoyable for me in 10 years. When I ended writing, I had an epiphany: When you clearly define what you want, the steps needed to get it suddenly become much clearer. Let’s get on to the exercise:
Imagine what your life could be and look like if you could do anything you wanted without any fear of failure. Let’s say it’s 10 years from now. What kind of house are you in? Are you in the city? What does your furniture look like? Your car? Your career? How are you fulfilled professionally? Do you work for someone? Do you work for yourself? What is your day like? What is your health like? Who are you with? Who are your friends? Write this whole day. What it looks like. 29th April 2027. Dream big. Dream without any fear. Put your whole heart into it. Write like your life depends on it, because it does. And then… write another possible awesome day, in a parallel life. Read these once in a while. And see what happens.
We can do several things in different stages of our lives. Hence it is OK to write several potential awesome lives. We might get to live more than one at different stages. Write the things that, if this here was your best life, you could achieve. Writing doesn’t hurt, and there’s no one to look at it, so go all out.
“The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness. That might sound selfish, but it’s not. Only a sociopath or a hermit can find happiness through extreme selfishness. A normal person needs to treat others well in order to enjoy life.”
― Scott Adams, in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”
Happiness, I would say, would be the best goal. But yeah, I’m not going to define you happiness in a blog post of 1400 words. But I can at least point you in the right direction.
Health, Time-money Wealth, Relationships
One is having your priorities set straight:
Health >> Time-money wealth >= Relationships.
Health is the most important part of your life. But as usual, we don’t value things when they’re in big supply or until they’re taken from us. Without health neither money nor relationships can be both easily earned or maintained. If your health declines rapidly your money goes to fixing your health and your relationships will falter. Though some may keep going strong, people are busy, have stuff in their own lives to deal with, and the world does not revolve around you. And last but not least, exercise, diet, and sleep influence mood, and thus influence day-to-day well-being.
As for why Time-money wealth >= Relationships, well money does bring happiness, it just does not prevent sadness. If you are healthy and rich you can always make friends, but if you are healthy and have many friends, unless you have great contacts, it may not be easy to get rich. Without time to do what you really want, you don’t actually live, but merely exist. Someone who spends their time being told what to do, is like a mouse told to run in circles for its whole existence. A mouse half its age that has circled the world has lived much more.
And so there is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles; he has not lived long—he has existed long. For what if you should think that that man had had a long voyage who had been caught by a fierce storm as soon as he left harbour, and, swept hither and thither by a succession of winds that raged from different quarters, had been driven in a circle around the same course? Not much voyaging did he have, but much tossing about.
― Seneca the Younger, in “On the Shortness of Life”
This sets the tone for everything you do from now on. Are you moving directly towards what you wrote? We sometimes believe to be moving towards our goals, but we’re in fact moving diagonally, doing tangents, doing things that have marginal effects. Most people that I know that are doing this, are in fact being thrown around by life, but they ilude themselves by saying it is a conscious choice, part of their plan, which, when asked to be presented, is vague and clearly not well thought out. This is where this exercise should help.
Two is having the right attitude:
This is something that takes less than 10 years to cultivate but helps immensely along the way. These are the actions for a great happiness-fostering attitude:
Savoring the little moments in the present that bring you joy. The soft sound of rain drops on your umbrella. The taste of that yummy ice cream while on the beach listening to the waves going back and forth and feeling the sun on your skin. A tickle fight with your special one. A night out with friends. Enjoying the smell and feel of clean sheets. Walking barefoot in the grass. It’s basically an exercise of happiness acknowledgement. Many (most?) times we are happy but we aren’t conscious of it. By acknowledging we are happy, it increases the feeling because we feel what we were feeling already plus the added emotion of “this is special, let me cherish it”.
Feeling grateful for the good little things that you already have and that happen to you everyday which you take for granted. I’ve read somewhere after we get a spike of happiness from a new purchase or life improvement, it takes about 3 months for the level of happiness to back to what it was previously. Feeling grateful is a way to re-ignite these little happiness spikes that have been extinguished with the passage of time.
Aspiring for an even better future, for things that you want to achieve. If you can’t imagine an improved future, you won’t be happy no matter how well your life is going right now.
Giving, sharing, thinking about others. For example”Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral.”
Here’s two resources I recommend:
One are the summaries of A LOT of papers on the science of happiness. Kudos to Happify for the work they put in there. Read a few of the summaries and you’ll start to see patterns.
Two is a course on happiness. Yeah right? Who would guess we would need to take a course to learn how to be happy… but I recommend it because it is very well put. In fact I may try to put my course notes in here later on, they have definitely made an impact on me.
Why is this article tagged “Productivity” and why should you care about being happy if you want to achieve outward goals, not necessarily related to your happiness? If you look in the 1st resource, there are quite a few papers linking increased happiness with increased productivity. Doubly useful. Be happy, be productive or rather, be both :).
Finally, remember not to define success as the attaining the final 10 year goal, but each step you successfully take in the right direction (This, in fact, should be the default mode of thinking for every goal that takes a while to reach). Each day that you do ONE thing that you are proud of yourself which makes you closer to the final goal, is a successful day. It really is, isn’t it? Each day that you improve marginally. “Today I managed to do (small thing). I am having success.” Pat yourself on the back and feel good. A flame that burns with double the intensity, extinguishes at half the time. Better to let it burn slowly and make it into a habit, and not burn too much willpower. You will also enjoy the process much more because having success each day rises your moral, and gives you confidence that you are indeed capable of doing this, which in turn makes it easier to keep going.
Writer James Clear, in an article on The Buffet Principle, details a strategy Warren Buffett taught his friend Charles Flint:
STEP 1: Buffett started by asking Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down.
STEP 2: Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. Again, Flint took some time, made his way through the list, and eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.
STEP 3: At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.
Start working on those 5 most important goals. Some even advise to focus on one thing at a time. I’d say focus on one thing at a time in separate parts of your life. For example one for self-improvement, one for business, and so on. And don’t spend a minute working on the next 20 things. It splits your focus, and we humans aren’t good multitaskers. Work on the Hell Yeah! things.
Now, go on and write like your life depends on it, because it does.