What do you want from your life?
In commenting to a recent post a reader asked how I decided what aspects of life were important to me in retirement.
This comment made me think again about the process I use to make decisions to get what I want from my life.
“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want” — Ben Stein
Stein’s advice is easy to give but it’s hard work to decide what you want from life. It means delving deep inside to identify your values, your longings and the dreams you have for yourself.
It’s a daunting task to make life decisions that reflect your heartfelt desires — especially in the current North American environment where choices are endless.
Structured methods will help to organize your thoughts as you decide what you want from life. You can adapt various corporate decision-making tools to make personal decisions.
More than 40 years ago I adopted a simple decision-making matrix for use with personal decisions. The idea came from a business workshop that focused on organizational development.
The presenter (whose name, unfortunately, is long-forgotten) demonstrated a simple matrix for making business decisions. At the end of the presentation, she mentioned that variations of the matrix were also used for personal development.
This off-hand comment inspired me to adapt the matrix for personal decision-making.
I have used this simple two column matrix at various stages of my life to identify what I wanted from life. I used it when we moved cities; I used it when making decisions about job change; I used it when considering retirement.
I use eight categories including assets, career, family/children, finances, mental, physical, spiritual and social in my personal matrix. Entries in the categories sometimes overlap but I try to keep them distinct.
At different times in my life some of the categories have had more importance. Since retirement, I am not using the career section but in former times this was an important category in terms of life-shaping decisions.
Using the Matrix
I begin with an empty page divided into two columns: one column labelled ‘dreams’ and the adjacent column labelled ‘current status’.
Then I name each category and begin to identify what dreams I have for that aspect of my life. In the adjacent column I evaluate my current life situation for that category.
Here is an example taken from an entry made shortly after I retired.
Under the category of ‘Mental’, I identified the dreams that included pursuing various types of creativity (writing, photography, learning to cook international cuisines).
I also dreamed of having ‘active’ brain outputs. I worried that passive brain activity from hobbies or reading or watching movies would not keep my mind fully productive. My dreams called for active brain outputs that would come from challenges that involved learning new things and using mental skills that I had developed during my career.
When I evaluated my current life situation against these dreams, I realized that I needed to put more effort into blogging as it forced me to keep abreast of technology to manage the blog (active learning). Blogging also required creativity for composition of regular posts, problem-solving, and research skills.
When I evaluated my wish use photography as a creative pursuit, I realized how little time I spent with my cameras and how little I knew about many of the technical requirements for great photography.
Learning photography has been a dream for many years and one that kept finding its way into dream lists. Yet my assessment of the current situation falls short of realizing my dream. I have taken one course to develop photography skills but I still fall short on spending enough time taking photos and evaluating results. Hopefully this will change.
Why is this matrix effective in making life decisions?
At a conscious level, it is important to recognize what you want to get out of life. The matrix requires explicit identification of what you want from life by recognizing the dreams you have for yourself.
Determining your dreams is only the first step. Equally important is recognizing and assessing the current situation. For example, once I realized that I had achieved what I wanted in my career, I knew that I was ready to retire. It made the life-changing decision to retire easier.
Once you are aware of how your dreams stack up against your current life situation, you can begin to turn the dream into actionable steps to close the gap.
Action brings results.
The Unconscious Mind Supports Your Actions
Your unconscious brain will be activated when you identify your dreams and start taking steps toward their accomplishment.
Having your ‘dream’ data in your mind will help you work toward achievement. Your unconscious mind is operating as an active player that shapes decisions even without active awareness.
To many, it may sound weird but research supports the notion of the unconscious mind supporting decision making, creativity and problem-solving. If you are doubtful, just check the idea of unconscious cognition on Wikipedia or read the current research found on psychology and medical sites.
Getting what you want from life
This simple decision matrix has been useful in helping me to decide what I want from life and guiding me as I set about taking action to realize my dreams.
I keep the matrix in my journal and update it as major changes occur in my life.
Sometimes it takes years to achieve items on my dream list and some items may never be achieved. The dreams are beacons that enable a focused approach to making life decisions.
What systems do you use to make life decisions? Do you leave major decisions to chance? Do you believe in serendipity? Do you use structured decision tools?
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