This is a deceptively simple exercise that has surprising power to shift your mindset. It’s a quick way to get an overview of what’s important for you in your life, and thus is great to do in January when you’re anyway focused on your priorities for the upcoming year (aren’t you?).
The challenge here is to allow yourself to play, free associate, daydream. Try to do the exercise without consciously thinking about it too much.
You’re going to compile three lists, and the best way to do this is still with a writing instrument and a blank piece of paper. Maybe you’ll say, as I hear often nowadays, that you’re more comfortable using your device, writing on a keyboard. Believe me when I tell you this is a different kind of creative flow, that writing by hand remains a superior form of information capture for certain tasks.
Whatever tools you’re using, see if you can find 30 minutes when you won’t be interrupted by anything or anybody. Or 3x 10 minutes will also work if necessary.
The first list is have. When you think forward in your life, it could be ten or even twenty years into the future, what would you want to change in terms of things you own? What possessions would you like to invite into your life? You’re going to scribble them down as fast as you can. In this best-case vision of your future, what do you allow yourself to have, buy, win, inherit, create? See if you can write for ten minutes without pausing. Maybe you need more time.
Remember that you don’t have to be ‘realistic’. Wanting to be realistic is a creativity-killer. All kinds of wonderful things can happen to you in your future, so try not to limit yourself in your imagination. The aim of this exercise is to get clear about what you would like to happen, to ignite your passion.
When your time is up or your paper is full or you just simply ran out of ideas, set that piece of paper aside or open a new document. On the next blank sheet you’re going to do the same again, except this time you’re capturing everything you want to do.
Let yourself be a bit crazy, you don’t have to show this to anyone. Did you always have a dream to sail around the world, or climb a certain mountain, or swim with dolphins, or take peyote, or start your own business? Whatever it may be, that long-held dream of doing, write it down before you can talk yourself out of it, again.
How are you doing? Some people find this exercise increasingly easy the more they get into it, and find it gives them a load of energy. For some of us it can also be pretty stressful, because as soon as we have an idea we can already think of ten reasons we couldn’t possibly allow ourselves to have or do that. Take a moment to notice how doing this makes you feel. Your feelings can be incredibly enlightening here.
One more list to go. Think again about your ideal imagined future. Now you’re going to capture everything you’d like to be, to become. You have a lot of flexibility with this list, because what you want to be could be a job title (‘creative director’) or an achievement (‘published author’) or a state of being (‘independently wealthy’, ‘self-confident’, ‘in a relationship’). Just keep on imagining and scribbling until nothing else comes to mind.
In my experience, this exercise works best when you set yourself a time limit, but you may be someone who does not find a 30-minute timeframe useful for imagining your future. Do this as it suits you! What can also work well is to have an initial brainstorming session with yourself, and then to have a follow-up period of a few days where you make the effort to notice what ideas pop into your mind when you’re not actively thinking (e.g. exercising, showering, just before you fall asleep). You may also prefer to try the exercise with a partner asking you the questions, or record your answers with voice capture.
However you do this exercise, do it. You may amaze yourself by how many suggestions your mind throws up when you give it permission to, and some of the things you want may have been on your mental list for years, waiting to be taken seriously. Is there anything you wrote down that surprises you? Anything you’re ashamed of wanting? Anything that makes you sad you didn’t create it for yourself yet?
Keep your completed lists somewhere you can refer to them often. I have personally found that doing this exercise every few years can give you very interesting insights into how your priorities, and you, are developing.