The only thing I know for certain is that I’m a writer. The problem with that, for someone who burns money like kindling, is that I can’t just write and still satisfy that part of me who likes sleeping indoors.
I’ve also spent the last, hmm… 15 years devouring personal development books, blogs and videos, and annoying friends about stoicism and neuro-linguistic programming. Yet after all that time reading about abundance, I still can’t see a way to turn my love of self-help into a lucrative vocation.
If I leave these diversions in the realm of dabbling, the world loses my nascent talent (too soon to say, potential genius?) because I have blurry vision.
That’s me, but let’s talk about you. Without a vision for your life, you will never realize your highest potential. Do I sound like my mom? Good. She really whipped me into shape, so you’re in for a lively read.
Most of us have had fuzzy glimpses of our brightest futures, but few give it enough thought to see the picture clearly. Let’s fix that, shall we?
The 97,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle
At the start, our mushy vision is like a gratuitously difficult puzzle. You don’t know how to begin. Even if someone left you the box top as a guide, how does each piece fit together? A love of writing, self-help and sarcasm. Oh, sure, it should be so easy to make this work.
In this stage, you can give up and watch TV, or you can pick up two puzzle pieces and see how they fit. In my case, I can glimpse the end goal: a house in Brazil where I get out of bed to surf, then write for a few hours, build a business in the afternoon, and party with my new and weird expat friends at night.
I see the pieces: the love of my craft, a wild imagination, a mortgage, a coming wedding and kids. But I can’t seem to envision the road to Oz. How do I, or you, move forward? By picking up one piece at a time and trying to connect it with another in a way that fits perfectly. Then you add a third.
7 Acts to Clear Your Vision
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” —Steve Jobs
1. Ask, What does my heart want?
Purpose is a matter of the heart. It’s discovered through feeling, not thinking. Your heart will chatter if only you ask it what it wants.
For 25 years, the HeartMath Institute, a place on the edge of Silicon Valley where I imagine they serve warm milk and let you play with bunnies, has investigated the heart-brain connection through more than 250 peer-reviewed studies. They discovered that the heart has its own “little brain” made up of 40,000 neurons, which sends more signals to the big brain than vice-versa. These signals influence our higher cognitive functioning, and can help us think clearly and make effective decisions.
So how do we effectively ask? First, focus your attention on the heart, and imagine your breath flowing in and out of this area. Next, activate a positive feeling. After a minute of this, you will have put yourself into a state of coherence. Then simply ask, What does my heart want?
2. Assess, What are my strengths?
It’s time to engage your head, so bust out the pen and paper. Make an honest assessment of your skills and experiences. Write down:
- What am I good at? Get clear on your strengths; they are signposts toward the best vision for your life.
- Where are my weaknesses? If you have the artistic ability of a gnat, don’t choose a path that requires that you master graphic design. Hire it out, or avoid that road entirely.
- How do I spend my time? Most people automatically do what they enjoy, at least in their spare time. If that means hiking every weekend, then your vision probably shouldn’t have you sitting indoors all day.
Be a dreamer, but keep your feet planted.
3. Build planning time into your life.
“If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.” —Tony Robbins
I went to the gym once last year and got six pack abs. Then I built a million-dollar business in a weekend. This sounds ridiculous because it is.
Nobody accomplishes anything of value in one sitting, so it’s strange to expect to know what your ideal life looks like after daydreaming about it once in the shower. If you want to discover your life purpose, schedule time to work on this puzzle, as you would your startup or time with your spouse.
Can’t find 30 minutes a day for your highest purpose? Then make peace with living a mediocre life.
4. Put your goals on paper; review them regularly.
Late in 2014, I read Richard Lazazzera’s article on how to best plan for a successful year. As a Shopify marketing expert, online store owner and founder of A Better Lemonade Stand—an entrepreneurship blog with 100,000 monthly readers—Lazazzera knows how to solve puzzles.
He helped me see goal setting as an ongoing process, not something you do once and forget about. Do this exercise every January 1, and at the start of each quarter:
- Ask, What were my goals last year? What did I do well? What did I not do well?
- List your accomplishments and celebrate them.
- Ask, What would I like to improve and learn?
- Ask, What are my goals for the coming year/quarter? What small steps will I take to get there?
Since 2014, I’ve been treating goal setting as an ongoing process, and I move forward at a speed that sometimes makes me dizzy.
5. It’s about time you made a vision board.
The Law of Attraction claims that our thoughts create magical brain waves that radiate into the universe and materialize what we think about. I’ve seen zero science to explain this, but there’s a throng of successful people who swear that what you think is what you get.
My theory is it works because when we think about something, we train our reticular activating system (RAS)—a piece of our brain that decides what we focus on—to look out for opportunities to get that shiny carrot that we’re obsessing over. Thinking about a BMW i8? You’ll see them everywhere.
The more we think (or better yet, feel) about something, the more our subconscious mind—responsible for at least 90 percent of brain activity—will work to find a way to create that thing.
We can tap into this universal principle with a vision board, a corkboard of images of things we want (a beach house, Kate Upton)—pictures that we’ll see every day, and that will serve as a constant reminder to our RAS and subconscious brain to get busy manifesting our vision.
This is not a new concept for you, I’m sure. Have you made one yet?
6. Take the first step.
Stare at each puzzle piece as long as you want, but they won’t un-jumble themselves. It’s time to pick up the first pieces and try to fit them together.
Archimedes’ eureka moment, those vivid dreams that “show you the way”—these are exciting, and we’d all welcome more of them, but your vision rarely pops out fully formed like some alien sci-fi baby. Your vision doesn’t ask much of you, except: Try some stuff. Volunteer at a co-working space for tech companies; go kayaking with Rob from the office; put your shoe designs online and see if anyone cares.
Mark Manson, in his brilliantly irreverent book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, says that most people see motivation like this…
- Emotion > Motivation > Desirable Action
When in reality, (and I can vouch for this), it’s like this:
- Get off the fence and ACT > Inspiration > Motivation > Action > Repeat
It sounds simple because it is. Pick up a piece, any piece.
7. Love whatever comes.
You’ve sharpened your vision, great. Now accept that reality will never look the same. As you move toward turning that dream into a reality, don’t be so inflexible that you miss opportunities to create something slightly different, but even better.
When I was building my online men’s store, at first I defined success only in sales. What I got instead was a personal development business and a chance to work with people one on one to help them evolve. Love whatever comes, as the stoics say. No life in history unfolded as planned.
Despite the uncertainty, plenty of men and women have managed to lead exceptional lives of prosperity and fulfillment. Be flexible. Be patient. Playing the long game means adjusting along the way.
Start sifting through your pieces.
Photo by @patong_ens/Twenty20.com