Designing Your Life, Start with the Right Goal

EB and DE

It’s mid-January, are you in goal overload? To be honest, all this goal planning excitement had me spinning in circles this week. One of my goals is more community involvement, and before I knew it I had committed to presenting 5 career planning sessions at my kids’ high school over 2 days’ time. It was fun and rewarding, but now I’m playing catch up and falling behind in other, equally relevant goals. Ouch, goal overload!

Sound familiar? You want to improve everything in one big new year’s makeover – me too! Yet too often in that scenario, we end up accomplishing nothing. That sounds harsh, but it’s why most people end up abandoning their new year’s goals.

As I reflected on this, I knew I had to take a step back and review the recent Life Design training I recently completed with Dave Evans, Stanford prof and co-author of Designing Your Life, a #1 NY Times Bestseller.

As Life Design theory reminds us, we all have the same number of hours in a week. If you don’t have time for our goals, what are you prioritizing instead? If you’re not sure, don’t worry, there’s an exercise for that coming up.

To get some clarity, I decided to revisit what Designing Your Life authors call the 4 main indicators of life satisfaction. The idea is if you’re fulfilled in each of these key areas, you’ve got the recipe for a happy and meaningful life.

These 4 parts that make the ideal whole include:

LOVE (relationship and/or spirituality).

With this in mind, I’ll share one of my favorite Life Design-inspired exercises to identify a foundational goal.

The idea is to start where you’re at. Beginning a transformation process with one initial focus makes it’s easier to move forward, instead of goal hopping yourself into a frenzy (like I did). It turns out that struggling with competing priorities is mentally draining, making it hard for you to reach any goals, never mind all of them.

I teach a career transition version of this exercise in a Reaching Your Goals workshop.

In the workshop, we use a gauge graph to illustrate how much time and energy participants put into each of their 4 categories to determine where they can make the greatest impact on overall life satisfaction. From there, they’re energized to move on to the next area of focus, creating a positive feedback loop.

To review the categories:

Work refers not only to employment, but to anything in your life that fits that definition. Cooking, cleaning, driving kids, making appointments, dealing with in-laws (not mine of course), you name it. If it’s done out of obligation, it’s work.

Health refers to exercise, sleep, nutrition, scheduled maintenance.

Play is what you do for fun; social outings, sports, TV, leisure activities, hobbies – things you do because you want to.

Love is relationship with yourself, others, a higher power – however you find that deep connection.

Ready to go from goal-hopping to clarity? Begin by assessing where you are now in the 4 key areas, using a visual gauge-style measure that looks like this:

A perfect life would show all of your areas, or gauges, at 100% for a balanced, fulfilled life.

When I start working with most people, their gauges look like this:

There’s usually no shortage of work, but they’re low on either play, health or relationship.

In my case (see above), I don’t need to take on any more work, but I’m very low on play, which is detracting from my overall life satisfaction and fulfillment. So in hindsight, saying yes to 2 days of delivering workshops to high school students was not the best use of my time since it didn’t fulfill any of my other deficit areas.

Focusing on the areas where you’re most unfulfilled will create the biggest immediate impact. And by building up a critical component of life satisfaction, you’ll gain energy and create momentum.

While recommending more play in the context of career goals seems counterintuitive, play is one of the key life components most overlooked. In one of my favorite explorations of this topic, the authors of 2015 NY Time bestseller Primed to Perform explore the importance of play to success at work. As it turns out, play energizes us and gives us fresh perspective, enhancing both engagement and creativity.

Setting goals doesn’t need to involve adding to your to-do list. In fact, saying yes to coffee with friends would have been a better use of my limited time than more work ever could.

In other words, saying yes to more work while ignoring deficits in other areas of your life isn’t going to get you where you want to go. If you’re always at the office but showing up drained or stressed, you’re potentially undermining the hard work you’re doing.

Devoting attention to the parts of your life that fuel, inspire, and fulfill you is as important to success as hard work. And stepping off the treadmill to re-evaluate and align all 4 key areas of your life is a great way to kick off your transformation process.

Time is sacred, use yours intentionally to make the greatest impact!

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