PART ONE: PREP YOURSELF
Figure out your purpose.
Simmer down. This isn’t as ALL EMCOMPASSING as it seems. Well, actually, it is. But it’s not as difficult as it seems. Deep down we all know our purpose. It’s just that sometimes we’re either afraid of acknowledging it or covering it up with an over-glorified goal.
Check it: Purposes are more about who we are than what we want. They are not something we can attain (that’s a goal), they are the force that drives us. So when someone says that their purpose is “to become a famous actor” they are actually stating a goal and limiting themselves to other things they can be doing or being that could be just as satisfying. Also, by putting a tangible ceiling on something as big as a purpose there is this overwhelming feeling of disappointment if it is not reached…or a sense of “Damn…why am I still not fulfilled…?” if it is.
I’ve decided that my purpose is “to be an inspirer.” It’s something I can always explore and do and grow in different ways, through an insanely diverse amount of goals. Imagine if my purpose was “to become a great writer”. It pains me to think of all the other methods to inspire that I would miss out on!
Have a ton of goals, great and small.
This one’s pretty obvious right? If you want to get something done, have something that you want to get done. The most important part of this step the pluralization of the word “goals” as in, more than one (we’ll talk more about this later). Then there’s the “great and small” part. Every goal doesn’t have to be “Save the world” or “Lose a million pounds”. Try something like, “Buy some paintbrushes” or “Call best friend tonight.” These are simple tasks that will not only allow you to then move on to greater things (like painting a picture or venting, sharing, and laughing with one of your besties), but also give you a little boost of positive energy that you can use to tackle the bigger goals…or even unfortunate necessities like paying bills or going to work, with just a little extra pep in your step.
I can’t even begin to say how important this step is. Make lists like crazy. Put everything on them. To me, lists come in two different flavors. There’s the brainstorming list and the focused list. The brainstorming list has EVERYTHING. This is the best list ever. Go crazy. The crazier the better. Here’s an excerpt from one I did a couple weeks ago:
- Become a bartender
- Adopt a baby of a different race than me/husband
- Write a play about terraforming
- Learn Spanish
- Be a motivational speaker
- Eat at that ninja restaurant
- Read a book from the Sociology section of a book store
- Eat healthier
- Use fear as a launchpad to adventure
I probably have way too much fun doing this…and you should, too. The more ground you cover and the more you override your doubts and allow yourself to jot down, the more open your mind will be in actually achieving things. Plus, I guarantee the brainstorming list will reveal some desires you didn’t even know you had once you get on a roll. Really stretch yourself here. Some of the best things I’ve ever done have come from some random thing on this list. Last year’s trip to Buenos Aires, for example, is the result of a point on a list from early that year that read “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!” (it was a rough couple of months).
The focused list is more like the lists we’re used to making. Not really much imagination involved, we’re just writing down the stuff we already know we need to do. Maybe this looks familiar:
- Pay rent…or bills…or…loan…or tuition
- Finish project for work…or school
- Clean [something in or around the house]
- Fix [something in or around the house]
- Pick [household item] up from the store
- Get food for pet…or kids…or self…or spouse
- See the doctor about that [fill in the sickness)
There is really no arguing the importance of that list. Ignoring that list will result in utter chaos…and we can’t have that. We’re working towards growth and accomplishment here, people!
The focused list comes in three flavors. The one up above is the “Basic Needs” list. It’s that list that, if you don’t do it, you’re screwed. It can be lame. It can be boring. It’s always gonna be there.
Next up is the “Purpose” list. This list is pretty cool, because it’s all of the goals that are in line with your purpose. If you can’t think of anything, it’s a good time to refer to your brainstorming list and see if anything fits the bill, then grow it out from there. I could easily pull “Be a motivational speaker” and “Use fear as a launchpad to adventure” to mine. Then maybe add something like “Buy a book on motivational speaking” or “Start an inspiring blog” or “Talk to people on the street about who they want to be”.
Finally, we’ve got the “Rewards List”. This is basically a list of goals that don’t fit into the other list, but bring you some sense of joy or accomplishment. These are the things that keep you fresh, happy, surprised, exhilarated, and on your toes. These are the things you allow yourself once you’ve reached one of the other goals. Reward systems are super effective.
Let’s say you pay all of your bills on time this month. Do you know what that means? Ninja restaurant! And what if you officially launch and kick-off that inspiring blog? Why not start looking into bartending school? Using these things as rewards is a great way to keep your morale and sense of joy up while continuing on toward maintaining your basic needs and making headway with your purpose (two things that can be a tad heavy at times).
Oh, and if you have goals that aren’t basic needs (home, work, family, close friends etc..), don’t feed into your purpose, and don’t offer that sense of fun or adventure…get rid of them!
Right now. I’ll wait.
Also, you don’t have to actually write 3 separate lists all the time (I’d say I do it about 50% of the time). As long as you can identify what goal belongs where and you have ample examples of each, you are A-OK.
From here on out I’ll be focusing on the goals of purpose, as the basic needs pretty much get TOO much attention and the goals of rewarding are easy enough to motivate you to do on account of how utterly awesome they usually are.
PART TWO: PREP YOUR WORLD
Now that we’ve got ourselves in shape, let’s take it to the streets!
Operation: Trim the Fat from the Steak.
This is one of my favorite things and integral to reaching your goals and thus your full potential. Fat can taste really good in the moment, but at the end of the day it’s just slimy gloop that goes straight to your hips. For this reason we must look for the “fat” in our lives and do away with it, much like the goals that don’t fit I mentioned above.
The “fat” of our world are those things that stand in the way of our growth as individuals. The things we “hang on” to simply because we’re used to it or things that hang on to us like parasites (they take and take, but never give). Things like a job that makes you feel like a waste, the ex you just can’t let go of, the friend that comes to you only when they need something and never any other times. Acknowledging and then either changing or removing these things should be among your FIRST goals. Put them on a list. Write them in bold, red, underlined. They are the weeds to your garden of possibility.
This is something I’ve always been a big supporter of but haven’t really focused on much until recently. Despite the deceptively negative connotation I’ve given it, enviro-traps are fantastic at keeping your eyeses on the prizes. They are anything that physically exists in your world and support the achievement of your goals. They trap you so that you cannot escape thinking about what it is you should be doing.
The most obvious and powerful enviro-trap is the schedule. Giving a date and time (and alarm/notification) to a goal puts the heat on just right. Do it.
These beautifully laid self-traps can come in an unlimited amount of forms. Keeping a journal in my messenger bag reminds me (and allows me) to write anywhere. I bought a drafting table and put it in my room…it says “Trystiiin, draw on meee…” until I can’t take it anymore and put pencil to paper. Sometimes I’ll excitedly explain projects and goals to other people so they can later come to me and say, “So, Trystin, how’s [goal] coming along?”. There are few things I hate more than having to reply to that question with, “I haven’t started yet.” And I’ll be damned if I don’t start right after if I haven’t.
PART THREE: DOING IT!
Alright, now that we know our purpose and have a slew of goals on a slew of lists in a world that better suits our journey, how do we turn all this prep into some tangible action? Why, we just do it of course!
You made a schedule, now follow it. If you can’t make one of your appointments, move it to the top of the list, highlight it, and keep it there until you do it. To me, time management isn’t so much a means of allotting a certain amount of time to a certain task as it is giving NO time to wastes of time (i.e. the “fat”). Unless, of course, the time you’re putting in is time to alter or remove the fat (a noble quest indeed). You will be amazed at how much time you magically have once you’ve gotten rid of the nonsense that wastes it for no personal gain. Things like excessive rutter-less Internet use and taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror (you know who you are!).
Balance as a means to success is everything; in love, in friendship, at home, while partying, and certainly when it comes to reaching your goals. Focus should be given as much to purpose as it is to basic needs. Think of it this way: Focusing too much on the basic stuff can be kind of a downer. It’s easy to get lost in the importance of it, thus inflating its impact on you and drowning out the other list. Focusing too much on your purpose can place you in this idealized world where you’ll lose sight of the reality and importance of your basic foundations (workload, house etc…) and overall stability. And instability effs up everything.
One of the most beautiful things along the journey towards higher purpose-driven life is that the basic needs start to look a lot more like the purpose-driven ones. Paying your electric bill isn’t so bad when you’re living in your dream house. Getting your work done on time is a breeze when you love what you do. Purpose and need-based goals should never be looked at as opposing forces. The ultimate goal is for both to feed each other.
“Do what you feel.” This has been my slogan for a while and so when it came to prioritization I said “Screw it” and did what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. Whatever “felt” important at the time. And, despite my use of the past tense, this is more or less the way I do things now, but with one shiny new thing to consider: Sometimes there are parts of a goal that you just don’t want to do.
For instance, I LOVE researching, brainstorming, and writing plays. I don’t need to prioritize. It just happens. And that’s all fine and dandy if my goal is “to write a play”. But what if my goal is to “have one of my plays produced”. I hate submitting things, I hate reformatting things, I hate looking for submissions. My lack of desire will make it so that I will rarely ever “want” to do it. This is where prioritizing comes in most handy to me. I take the crappy goals on my purpose list and I make them priority. I put them at the top of my list. I schedule them with an “URGENT” flag. Anything to put them on an even playing field with the fun stuff. It also helps to think big picture. Then everything, in the long run, is the fun thing.
There are a number of ways to avoid burnout from working too hard, too much. One of them is to simply lie around and never try too hard. That is extremely burnout resistant, but the productivity is almost nonexistent. Another way involves going at a single endeavor while taking ample breaks in the middle. This is productive and burnout is very slow to come, but it does come in the frustrating form of a “block”. Writer’s block being the most famous block-type, but anything can be blocked really. It’s the brain going “I’ve had enough of this! I am more than this!” Standard burnouts are an overexertion of energy. Block burnouts are an overexertion of focus.
I never experience burnout when in the act of achieving my goals. A bold statement, sure, but a true one as well. Here’s how: First, I always have a number of goals I’m working on at any given time in at least three different areas. Right now, for instance, I’ve got a novel, a blog, an essay series, a board game, and aspirations to be a motivational speaker going on. This way, if I start to feel the burn out or blockage coming I simply hop on to another project, giving my brain something else to focus on for a change. This is how to beat the block. This is also why it’s important to have a purpose that isn’t “I want to be a writer” because coming down with writer’s block completely renders your progress at a standstill. What other avenues have you given yourself?
Important: What I am explaining isn’t multitasking. Multitasking is juggling multiple things at once and one of the best possible ways to accumulate stress and burn yourself out. What I am explaining is simply complete and utter shift in focus from time to time.
Another version of this is the right-brain/left-brain leap. This one is pretty legit. If you’re tired of working on one aspect of a project but really want to keep working on it, then pick another aspect. If I start feeling stressed over the design aspect of my board game I turn on Excel and start working on the mathematical aspect.
Lastly, never take breaks. Or, more to the point, never do nothing. Even more to the point: never do something without a purpose-supporting reason for doing so. This step is one-part rationalization, one-part momentum-maintenance, and uber-effective.
Let’s say I’ve done all the writing, drawing, and motivating I can do. It’s time to step away from the obvious purpose-driven activity and engage in something that will aid my journey with less exertion of mind or body. Maybe I want to hang out with my friends and grab a bite. This isn’t “taking a break”, it’s “allowing fun and nourishment to recharge me so I can hit my projects even harder when I go back to them.” Maybe I want to watch an episode of Skins (British version, of course). This isn’t “taking a break”, it’s “allowing inspiration from another creative source”.
All of these things are necessary to prolonged work on an activity. This is mostly for those work-a-holics out there who are afraid to step away (recipe for burnout much?). It’s not a “break” if it’s, as a whole, for the better of the project.
One more thing: the “stepping away” option is the exception, not the rule. This is what happens once all other options have been used up…or you’re getting tired or hungry or your house is on fire..
Basic needs trump all here, I’m afraid.
Feel completely, act completely.
Here’s a fun one (especially for those who knew me as the anti-emotions automaton I used to parade around as once upon a time). We are people. We have feelings (Cry! Laugh! Scream! Let ’em out!). Feelings are chemical reactions of the body that are pushing us to take action. If the feelings are negative, we must take action against them. If they’re positive, we must take action to keep that party going. And what is the best possible way to take action in response to feelings? That’s right! Your goals!
If you’re sad, what good does sitting around in the dark with a pint of ice cream doing? If you’re happy, why waste that energy staring longingly out of a window and thanking the heavens for how happy you are? Lame and lame. Put that sadness into action. Use the energy and convert it to getting stuff done. I guarantee that whatever awfulness you’re feeling will simmer down while you’re achieving your goals.
I once put together, from concept to completion, a 24-page fully-illustrated and written book about a journey to Neverland for my boyfriend at the time. Each page was drawn in a different style (abstract, impressionist, “Dr. Seuss”, street graffiti…). I did this in six days. To this day I say this is the greatest project I have ever completed and you can bet your bottom dollar I would have never been able to do it without the love that was fueling me at the time.
A warning about negative feelings and goals: Don’t use your goals to hide from what you’re feeling. Use the feelings to give energy to your goals. It’s the difference between having a bear bite off your arm but continuing to grill burgers at the picnic and having a bear bite off your arm and using that pain to get your butt to the hospital as fast as humanly possible. Or what if you had an awful day at work and come home furious. You check your basic needs list and see that you have to take apart an old table for the garbage the next morning. Therapeutic destruction, here we come!
There are people who are going to love what you do and those who are going to hate it. Whatever. That’s great. If they love it, use their energy to do more. If they hate it and that angers you, use the anger to fuel more of it (see above). Sort of a goal-based “In yo face!”. If they hate it and you feel discouraged, either you care too much about what people think about you (stop that!) or this goal is weak (because your knee-jerk reaction isn’t to defend it…which it should be) and needs to be tweaked or removed.
Another thing about other people. Never ever EVER achieve your goals for them. Do it for you. Go ahead and dedicate it to them if you must, but do it for you. The very second that you begin creating things for the sake of pleasing others you begin to muck up your style, your individuality, and your completed project is watered-down crap in comparison to what you would have accomplished for you.
Remember that rewards list? Use it. It’s motivational. It keeps things interesting. It reduces boredom, burnout, blockage. It raises morale. What more do I have to say?! When you achieve something reward yourself. And please make the rewards as complex and engaging as your other goals. A reward goal isn’t very effective at motivating or maintaining momentum if it’s something like “Eat a piece of chocolate from the bowl in the living room.” Yay, you’ve done nothing. But if you make it something like, “Make a tray of chocolates from scratch” now you’re cookin’ with cocoa!
Final thoughts and missing pieces.
I’m going to bring this to a close now. I’ve shared enough of my personal nuggets of wisdom to get you going, either toward them or away. The important thing here is to always do. Always. Every waking moment should be dedicated to becoming something more…or at least something else. I was going to write a gigantic section on overcoming fear and embracing change, but those are each posts in themselves. But, regardless, you need to overcome fear. It will always be there until you look it in the eye and walk on through. If you don’t do this you won’t gain much of anything out of life. Embrace change. A lot of fear comes from the change that needs to happen to reach your goals. Change in the form of sacrifice and acceptance of the unknown are absolutely necessary in reaching your goals. Accept that. If you don’t, go ahead and forget everything you read here. You’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.
Don’t be afraid to shuffle through purposes. If your life doesn’t feel right and you honestly can’t understand why, look at your purpose. Ask yourself if it was your choice or something that was handed down to you by your family or boss (or a past version of yourself) that you simply cannot relate to anymore. Upgrade it. You’ll thank yourself later.
Missing pieces. While I’m pretty good at getting things done there are a few areas in which I have to step up my game. One of them is overcoming fear (I can be pretty fierce and courageous, but I know in my heart that I haven’t even scratched the surface…when I do, expect that post). And there’s networking. Getting myself “out there”. I’ve had a lot of dumb luck with it but no set system yet. I’m working on it. When I strike networking gold there will be blog.
One more thing: this is a journey that will only end when you’re in the ground. There will always be mountains to climb and room to grow. Even as I sit here I know and feel that I am nowhere close to accomplishing the things I want to…and that’s exciting; a challenge that makes my mouth water and that I accept with everything I am. “This is just the beginning!” is my battle cry and I live for the adventure of what’s happening now and whatever happens next.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope you’ve been inspired to some capacity. If not, my bad. Epic purpose-fail. Ha.
Questions/comments, lay’em on me.
Now back away from this screen, make a sick set of lists, and get your life on!