Ed. Note – This is the fifth and last in a series of posts in which I’ll deal with the main purpose of this site: Life Design. This will be an encapsulation of my thoughts on the subject, and the foundation for everything else that’s written here. You can find the entire series here.
We’ve covered a lot in the past few weeks, discussing the various steps one needs to take in order to create a personal development plan and live an ordered, effective life (what I’ve been calling “Life Design”). What this is really all about is getting your life to the point where you’re content with where you’re at. Not so much that you’re happy all the time (although, this process could lead you toward being happy a lot more often than you currently are), but that you have a peace inside of you that comes from knowing that you’re doing what you are meant to be doing. Having an ordered, effective life will bring you to that place.
I know that those terms, especially “ordered”, can be anathema to many folks (mainly creative types). “Order” tends to have connotations of rigidity and it’s not something that most people associate with the creative process.
I maintain, however, that it’s only through order that we can be free to truly create. I wrote an article prior to this site really taking off called Design Patterns, in which I discussed this very issue. You may not have read it before; if you haven’t, I’d encourage you to check it out (and the accompanying video, which is really much better than my musings on the subject). What it talks about in a nutshell is that creativity can be harnessed by habit. You can force creativity to come, but only through developing habits that you mind associates with the creative process. It’s much like a Pavlovian response. For instance, I’ve formed a ritual that I associate with writing. It’s quite personal, and may sound dumb to everyone else reading this. I know that when I sit down at my desk and put in my earplugs, the words are just going to start running out of my fingers onto the keyboard. It’s something that I’ve trained my mind to associate: earplugs while sitting up=time to write.
The same thing is true with our lives. By conditioning ourselves to take the steps of evaluating our dreams against our values and setting incremental goals to achieve those dreams, we’re instilling a way of thinking that provides clarity and focus to our routine. While the specific tasks change quite often, the process we use to define them does not. Eventually, we form a habit through intentional action that continues with us. The process doesn’t quite become automated, but it makes creation and achievement easier.
What the repetition really does is associates success in completing our goals with the physical process that we go through. My mind has linked the earplugs with the act of writing, and so now when the earplugs go in, the mind switches on. It’s just like Pavlov ringing the bell every time when food was presented to his dogs; eventually, all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs started to slobber all over the place, even if no food was ever presented again.
Another thing that I’ve noticed happens with this intentional process of building this personal development plan is it causes me to re-evaluate how I define success. By having standards to measure up to, I’ve found that even when I fail in a conventional sense, I still succeed. By not reaching my goal, but still working toward it in an organized fashion, I’ve found that I pick up new skills, learn new concepts, and discover more about myself than I ever did before. If I hadn’t had something to shoot for, I’d drift through life, meandering from one circumstance to the next, never really understanding the plot. I might pick up new understandings (obviously, since I stumbled on this process that I’ve got now), but they come more slowly and with more difficulty.
Finally, the process of Life Design allows people to live a ife of no regrets. By evaluating every dream and goal through the lens of my most treasured values, I ensure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. If my guiding principles say that I need to spend more time with my family, and sacrifice the “opportunity cost” of that time, then I spend time with my family. It gives me a quick mental checklist to evaluate my big life decisions by. I know that only by keeping my values elevated above the fray can I truly be happy with the way my life is going. It helps me to know that my circumstances can’t bring me happiness, because true happiness needs to come from me being satisfied with who I am.
So, that’s it. Keep up the process, replace a realized dream with a new one, and continue to grow and develop into the person you were created to be. It’s simple, but not easy. It requires sacrifice, effort, and discipline. It’s not something that a lot of people do, quite honestly. You’ll stand out from the crowd. But I can’t imagine ever going back to the aimless drift that I used to have. Like Robert Frost said, “I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”.
So, what about it? What’s holding you back from putting a Life Plan into place? Do you already have one? Is it working out for you, or are the tweaks you could make that would make it even more successful? Let us know in the comments…