If you are somewhere between your mid twenties, you might be hit by “quarter life crisis” once in a while. When you are showering, your mind goes: “What the heck am I doing in life?”, “I was supposed to be a ___________ by now…”, “What’s the point of going through all these sh*t.”, “I am falling behind in life, look, all of my friends seem to be having a good life.”
Dammmit… Life is a beech.
Besides, no matter what we have achieved in life, at the end of the day, we are leaving this world empty handed. How would you define a good life? What do want to experience in life? How would you write your personal life story?
“Empty-handed I entered the world, barefoot I leave it.” — Kozan Ichikyo
Fear not, you are not alone, and not all who wander are lost. If life is about problem solving, then, maybe design thinking can help.
Things you need
- 1 hour of your time (yes you need to sacrifice one hour of your life in order to figure out what you want do in life, contradicting much?)
- Post-it notes
- A marker pen
- A wall
If you are a lazy / eco-friendly person like me:
- Keynote, Powerpoint, Google Slide (Choose one)
At the end of the sprint, you will be able to identify your life goals and make small actionable steps to achieve them.
Step 1: Mental attitude — visualising your future self (Diverge)
The first thing that we are going to do is to visualise our future self. Having a strong sense of your future self prevents us to be pushed around by life’s circumstances. By knowing where you want to be in the future, you are more likely to take charge of your life and find ways to improve it.
Most people are wired for a kind of coasting in life without thinking.
The first step is to fill in the blank below, you may come up with 5-10 different answers:
I want to ________________________________ in 5 years time.
* Consider your career, health, financial condition, relationship, skills, physical, education, attitude, public service etc.
- I want to be financially stable in 5 years time.
- I want to open my own cafe in 5 years time.
- I want to visit at least 10 different countries in 5 years time.
Step 2: Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals
Most people sort of know what they want to achieve in life, but they hardly get it started. One of the reason is because people set goals that are too vague. S.M.A.R.T stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time Bound. To keep this exercise simple, we will be focusing on setting goals that are specific, measurable and time bound.
Let’s backtrack a little bit and take a look at your future self. For example, one of your 5-year goal might be to build a strong business network. Currently the goal is not “smart”, it is too vague, we can make it more specific by asking ourselves deep questions, such as — What does a strong business network mean to you? Who should you network with? People from which industry? How many people do you intend to meet and make friends with?
Our aim is to break down a big goal into a smaller and precise goal, and then turn them into actionable tasks. Based on the networking example, a SMART goal could be something like “to meet 10 new people from the fintech industry by the end of this year”. It is easier to take action when your goal is specific and clear.
Therefore, take a look at your future self, do a quick brainstorming session and break down your goals into SMART goals. Write down each goal on a piece of post-it note, if you are using keynote or powerpoint, draw boxes and type out your goals, see below:
Step 3: Impact x Effort Quadrant (Converge)
Next, create / draw a four quadrant diagram (you can use a flipchart paper) and label the quadrant as so:
Then, categorise and place your SMART goals on the quadrant accordingly. You might tend to place most of the goals on the high impact quadrants (this happened to me) because you feel that most of the goals are really important to you. A good trick is to ask ourselves whether the goal matters at this point in time. Is running a marathon by 28 years old and climbing a mountain by 2020 important at the moment? A yes-no question might help us to get a clear answer. If you are an indecisive person, you might want to try this as well.
High Impact, Low Effort
These are the things that have a high impact on your life and can be done easily. These could be things like trying meditation or hitting the gym every once a week. Make it happen, just tick the freakin’ checkbox.
High Impact, High Effort
Basically these are your big goals, they are hard to achieve, takes time but will have a high impact on your life. You have to further size it down into small and actionable plans in order to achieve these goals. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to worth the grind.
Low Impact, Low Effort
Basically these things are distractions, they are easy to accomplish, but only have small impact on your life. Perhaps you can shelve these things for now.
Low Impact, High Effort
I would call these goals the “good to have goals”. These goals have a lower impact on life, but are difficult to make them happen. This does not necessary mean the goals are useless, they are amazing goals but not relevant for the time being. Due to our limited capacity, we want to prioritise and put more time and energy on goals that matter. You can always reassess these goals once in a while, as you grow older, your priorities change too.
Step 4: Prioritise
Take all of the high impact / low effort goals, and reorder them from top (high priority) to bottom (low priority).
Next choose one to two big goals to focus on. Most likely you will need to make a plan and further chunk these goals down into smaller pieces in order to make the first step.
Great! We now have a set of goals that we can focus working on for the next 5 years. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” goals, it is up to us to define our life story. Just like any design process, you can always revisit any part of the process and refine the goals whenever you think it’s necessary.
Step 5: The Kaizen Way
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step. — Lao Tzu
Big goal triggers fear. This is why sticking to new year resolutions is hard. Too often, we set goals that are too big. When a goal is big, it triggers the amygdala. Amygdala controls a human’s fight-or-flight response. “In the face of danger, amygdala slows down other brain functions such as rational thinking that could interfere with the physical ability to run or fight.” — Robert Maurer.
If you ever found yourself being chased by a dog, you notice that you don’t just stand there, think and decide what to do next, your body reacts automatically and run. Your autonomic nervous system takes charge of all the things that are going on in your body.
Although we have broke down big goals into SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, and time bound). Some of the goals may still be too big and scary. Use the Kaizen method and further break down the goals.
If you are not a book person, reading one book every week is challenging. Instead of reading one book every week, you can begin with just by reading one page a day, perhaps before bedtime. The idea here is to tiptoe pass fear and focus on system building.
We can’t just rely on our motivation to push us through the habit building process and expect to miraculously wake up one day and have an unconscious habit. It takes a system to help us build the habit that we desperately need.
By setting small goal that only requires little willpower, you are more likely to take action. When you begin to feel that the task is a little bit too easy, take another small step, read 5 pages a day. Aim for gradual change, not big change.
Large Goal > Fear > Access to cortex is restricted > Failure
Small Goal > Fear bypassed > Cortex engaged > Success
Last but not least… Just do it!
I will leave the hardest step to you. All the best on making a change on your life! When you are tired, remember to take a break.
Enjoy the process!
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Feeling stuck and fed up with life? Run a design sprint. was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.