4 Ways to Get the Life You Want
A few years back, a woman in Canada drove her car straight down a boat launch. As her vehicle became submerged, she was able to escape out a window and swim to shore. When later asked by the media why she would drive her car into a lake, she said had simply been following the directions on her GPS system.
This story is not an isolated one (perhaps you’ve also had your own close encounter with a lake). Yet it serves to highlight an important distinction for successfully navigating any journey:
The map is not the territory.
The same is true for life. We all have our own internal “GPS” system: mental maps made up of beliefs and biases that we rely on to help us navigate life. What we often forget is that our mental maps aren’t actually reality; they’re just our representation of it. Yet because we follow them as though they are, they shape our relationships and our careers, and ultimately direct the course of our lives.
There’s a good chance that many of your mental maps do precisely what they’re supposed to do: successfully guide you from your current Point A to your desired Point B. For instance, to enjoy more love (and less conflict) in your relationships, raise responsible kids, stay healthy, create financial freedom, move forward in your business or career, and bounce back from your disappointments and setbacks along the way.
If they do, these maps are working for you.
Other times, particularly when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory like our Canadian friend, your maps can give you a bum steer... right into a lake!
These maps are working against you.
Needless to say, your mental map of the world isn’t always accurate. Nor is it ever fully complete. Sometimes you might look at a situation and think, That’s it!—when in fact there’s a whole lot more territory and options available to you that you aren’t even aware of.
You simply don’t know what you don’t know!
Perhaps you know someone whose map of the world is small and simplistic. Someone who mistakenly thinks they don’t have any choice but to live the way they do, when in fact there are many other options available to them. They’re just blind to them. Because they “don’t know what they don’t know,” they live a far smaller life than they could, and regularly make choices that only perpetuate their problems and sabotage their own happiness.
Your current mental map landed you where you are today. The question is, will it be adequate to help you build the life you want to live 10 years from now?
People with limited mental maps stay in jobs they loathe and relationships that leave them lonely because they think there’s no other way. They refuse to try something new because their map stops abruptly at the perimeter of their comfort zone (which generally isn’t very big!). So they keep doing the same things over and over, even when it’s making them miserable.
Of course, it’s easier to see when someone else is using a faulty or outdated map than when you are. So consider this: Your current mental map landed you where you are today. The question is, will it be adequate to help you build the life you want to live 10 years from now?
If you do a little “life audit” of your life today and identify where you’re constantly coming up against similar problems dressed in different outfits—for instance, relationship conflict, work stress, yo-yo weight or bouncing checks—chances are the map relating to that aspect of your life needs some tweaking... if not a total overhaul.
Taking some time out to upgrade your internal GPS begins by acknowledging that you don’t see the world as it is but as you are, and then owning the fact that you alone are the “captain of your ship” in life and that you alone must take responsibility for the map you are using. If you don’t, you run the very real risk of moving forward with blinkered thinking and repeating self-defeating cycles of thought and behavior.
If you’re ready to start a new chapter, now is the time. The following four-step process, adapted from my latest book Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted, is intended to help you rewrite the beliefs that make up your current map and spare yourself a lot of stress and unnecessary dead ends.
1. Create a compelling future.
Vision = Power. Anytime you lack clarity about what you truly want, you can end up someplace you don’t much like. Invest time to connect to the biggest and most compelling vision for your life five years from now. Write down what you would be doing, who you’d be doing it with, the value you’d be adding, the emotions you’d be feeling and what people around you would be saying about you.
2. Rewrite your story.
The stories you tell yourself—about what you can and can’t do, about who you are and who you can become—either fuel your ambition and self-belief and spur you into purposeful action or they hold you back by fuelling fear, blame, doubt, despair, resignation or resentment. What new story would you need to tell yourself in order to manifest your biggest vision?
3. Shelve your “shoulds.”
At the end of life, many people regret that they lived the life others felt they should live, not the one they truly wanted to live. Such is the power of our “shoulds.” Of course we all have “shoulds”—like where we should study, which career we should pursue or how we should raise our kids—but we often don’t realize that they are often a far stronger reflection of other people’s expectations, fears, beliefs and values than our own. If you decided to let go of what you thought you should do and just did what you truly wanted to do, what would you start doing and what would you stop doing?
4. Exit the safe lane.
Fear is wired into our psychological DNA to steer us away from threats and toward comfort and safety. Yet left on autopilot, fear can keep us living in the “safe lane” of life, unwilling to take the very actions needed to build a rich and rewarding life. Fear drives us to overestimate the risks and underestimate our ability to handle them. It’s why we must be vigilant not to focus only on what we could lose if we take a risk, but what we risk losing if we play it safe and stick with the familiarity of the known.
Close your eyes, put your hand on your heart and step into the shoes of you at age 90, looking back on the journey that was your life. Then, tapping your own inner “Braveheart,” ask yourself, if you stay on your current path, what might you one day regret not doing? Where do you need to veer out of the safe lane of life and into the brave lane? What price will you pay if you don’t? Fear regret more than you fear failure. At the end of life, most people regret far more the risks they didn’t take than those they did.