The Single Most Helpful Exercise For Figuring Out What You Should Do With Your Life

By Anni


Many years ago, before we had kids, my husband and I spent 10 days at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.  We started the mornings with mimosas and made-to-order omelets. We spent the days lounging by the pool or on the velvety beach with ever-present cocktail waiters hovering eagerly over us with trays of strawberry margaritas and pina coladas.  We got dressed up at night for gourmet dinners, before being entertained by Michael Jackson impersonators one night and circus acrobats the next. We left the resort twice – once to go horseback riding and once to go four-wheeling.

It was by far the most relaxing 10-day-stretch of my entire life. We were going through some stressful crap at the time and this break was just what the doctor ordered.

Yet, the whole time I had one nagging thought in the back of my mind. I was wondering just how long this kind of “money-CAN-buy-happiness” euphoria could last. How long would it be before I woke up one day, poured the mimosas in the sand, and said enough is enough?

How long would it be before I said, I’m bored! I need to DO something. Anything. Let me out of here! I’m not dead enough to belong in paradise yet!

Three weeks, four weeks?

Our little get-away came to an end before it happened, but I’m certain that day would have come eventually.

In one of my very favorite self-help books, Wishcraft, Barbara Sher asks her readers to imagine their ideal day.  Not the all-inclusive-resort-dream kind of day.  Not the ideal vacation day.  But the real life ideal day.  The kind that wouldn’t end up boring you after a couple of weeks. The kind where you are fulfilling your life’s purpose. The kind that will leave you satisfied.

Since reading Wishcraft, I’ve seen this exercise pop up elsewhere as well.  Sometimes it’s called the perfect day.  Sometimes it’s called the ideal day. But whatever you call it, I think it’s worthy of sharing over and over again, because it’s so incredibly illuminating.  In fact, I would say it’s the single most helpful exercise you can do in pursuit of a happy life.

When you let yourself imagine your ideal day in detail, it will give you instant direction.  You will finally know exactly what you should do with your life.

This day is the goal to work towards.

This day is where your path should lead.

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How To Figure Out What You Should Do With Your Life

My Ideal Day

I have a few different versions of the ideal day. But all of them start the same way. I wake up without an alarm clock whenever my body says it’s ready to wake up. I go for a long run. During the first part of my run, I process and sort out any issues that are bugging me. This clears my mind and allows ideas that I want to write about to start coming to me.

By the time I get back from my run, my husband will have gotten the kids off to school and gone in his workshop to make stuff. (That’s his ideal day!).

After a long hot shower and breakfast, I spend the rest of the morning writing. I have three or four websites on different topics and I’m always working on a book as well.  This gives me the variety I need to not get bored. All of my projects are aimed at helping people in some way, which gives me purpose.

For lunch, I fix a salad with fresh vegetables from my own garden and eggs from the chickens that are running around in my backyard. I read a book while I eat.  Then I spend just a bit more time writing.

By mid-afternoon, I might be ready for some human interaction. So the huz and I will work on one of our together-projects – maybe something in the garden or the house. When the kids get home from school, I’ll do their homework with them and we’ll have some family time. We’ll cook a nice dinner together. The kids will be old enough to not throw a fit about the food, half the meal will not end up on the floor, and everyone will be capable of refilling their own beverages.

After the kids are in bed, the huz and I will have some time to hang out.  I won’t be too tired, because I got a good night’s sleep the night before and because my day was energizing – not stressful.

When I go to sleep, I do so because my body feels ready.  Not because I have to get up at the crack of dawn to do a bunch of crappy crap I don’t want to do.

Tips For Doing The Ideal Day Exercise

Ok, your turn!  This is such a fun and easy exercise, you simply MUST do it! Just keep these tips in mind:

Add as much detail as you can

  • The more detail you have, the more opportunities you will have to pinpoint what is already good in your life and what areas you can work on improving. What I wrote above is the shortened version of my ideal day just to give you some ideas. My actual ideal day is much more detailed.

Be authentic and honest

  • This is YOUR ideal day. This is not what everyone else thinks your ideal day should be. This is not what that voice in your head says you should be like. When I thought about my ideal day, there was a voice in my head that said “you are a terrible anti-social person for not wanting to be around people until mid-afternoon.”  But if I’m honest with myself, that’s what I want and need.  I’m a highly sensitive person and an introvert.  I need a long stretch of time every day to do things by myself without talking to anyone or being interrupted. Even people that I love. So I told that voice to shove it and made a lot of alone time part of my ideal day.

Create as many different versions of your ideal day as you want

  • It’s okay to have several different versions of your ideal day.  Most of us don’t want to live in Groundhog Day for the rest of our lives.  You could have seven different versions for every day of the week.  Or you could have different versions for different phases of life.  My ideal day today is different from what my ideal day will be 10 years from now or 20 years from now.

After You Have Imagined Your Ideal Day

So let’s say you let your imagination run around like an excited puppy dog for a while and came up with your own version of an ideal day. Now what do you do with it?

Well, you go after it of course. Don’t let your ideal day remain a distant dream.  Start working toward making it a reality today. Even if it will take a long time and even if you only take baby steps toward it at first.  Start working toward making it a reality.

  • Break your ideal day down into specific goals.
  • List the obstacles (because there will be many for sure).
  • Brainstorm ways to tackle the obstacles.

Baby steps, baby steps… Most of us can’t make our ideal days happen overnight, but we can keep making incremental progress toward our goal.

When I first imagined my ideal day, I was still rudely woken up by an alarm clock in the morning and I spent most of my work days not writing, but doing something much less inspiring to support my family financially.

But even then, I was able to start most mornings with a run.  And what you are reading right now is the first of the websites I was able to start developing as a side job.  And I was even able to plant a vegetable garden in my backyard, although it was mostly a disaster that first year. 😀

So I took many, many baby steps and now…

Well, it took several years, but this website is now my full-time job.  I’m still starting every day with a long run.  And most of my lunch came from the garden today. 🙂

What’s your ideal day like?  I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. When I got into dog rescue two years ago I fell in love. My husband and I adopted our 3rd dog, Emma, from a rescue and we wanted to give back and help other dogs find homes.

    As we began fostering and working very closely with the rescue I began to realize that my passion is with animals. About 6 months in I switched gears from looking for a marketing job (which is what my degree is in) and starting looking for jobs working with animals.

    I now work in a veterinary clinic and am looking to go back to school to be a vet tech. And although I’d prefer to just work with animals and not so much their humans, it works pretty well for me!

    I love the idea of an ideal day and I think this helped me decide that animals are where it’s at for me!

    1. Thank you for commenting Krysten! I’m an animal lover too, so I can totally see animals being a big part of an ideal day. Good luck with going back to school!

  2. What a fantastic idea! I’d love to have the days where I don’t have to wake up by an annoying alarm clock. It would also be great to have time to myself and just write/read before really venturing out in the world.

    -Lauren

  3. I love this so much! I’m such a self help/self development book junkie so I’m going to have to add that book to my list to read!

    There are so many parts of my day that ARE my ideal day already and I think that’s important for me to remember when I get in a funk….I start my day with meditation, a workout, shower, and breakfast/coffee. I love this little routine so much.

    From there I go to my full time job. It works for me, for now, but ultimately what I’m actually looking for is the day when my day consists of working on my blog and the writing that I want to do full time.

    1. Thanks for commenting Katie! It really is a super encouraging book that I would highly recommend. Sounds like you and I have pretty similar ideal days. 🙂

  4. Great post. I think it is so important to keep in mind a real day when we think about activities like this. Your day sounds great. I would love to have a whole day to relax and balance spending time to myself and my family/friends! Happy Monday!

  5. Your ideal day sounds wonderful. I was glad you shared with us your progress towards it at the end as I think I needed a little reality check in there too. My ideal day isn’t too dissimilar to yours, but I find I just get distracted so easily. 1 thing I have recently implemented is not turning on an alarm, and I very rarely wake up past 6am (unless it’s a day I have to leave the house and go to my casual job, in which case I do set an alarm “just in case” I sleep in but I usually wake up before it). I’ll have to have more of a think about what my ideal day looks like 🙂

  6. I really love this! You are so right–there is only a small amount of time you can sit around and drink mimosas (even thought I would enjoy every second of that). For me, I have to be doing something I believe impacts the lives of others. And I am totally jealous of your garden–I have always wanted to b eat the food from my own garden. But…I have a black thumb…and plants scream, “MURDERER!” when I walk by. So I’ll have to set that dream aside.

    Thank you for sharing this–and good luck on accomplishing your “ideal day!” Looks like you’ve made a good start 🙂

  7. How long is your ideal day?
    By the time your kids are back from school you have aready done many activities that are non time constrained?
    Who does the chores?
    I get that this is “ideal” but reality bites so when we set goals it might be wise to keep them grounded in reality otherwise we set ourselves up for failure.

    1. I agree it’s important to keep time constraints in mind and I like to use time blocking to make sure I don’t try to fit too much in one day. Perhaps I tried to squeeze in too much in this example. One way around that would be to think of an ideal week or even an ideal month instead of an ideal day. As for chores, my ideal life definitely includes a cleaning service. 🙂

  8. Anni,
    I’m at the point in my life where retirement is just around the corner. I have lost so many years that I would like to have had my ideal days. So many things I would still love to do, I would like to be able to do something either helping people or animals. I would love to have time to spend at the ocean, my happy place. Time to do my sewing/arts and not feel guilty about doing it. I conflicted about it all, always have been, need to do some deep thinking! Love your article, made me really think, I believe I would have several ideal days!

    1. Hi Debbie,
      Your comment made me think of this quote from Jane Fonda: “It’s never too late – never too late to start over, never too late to be happy.” I think your plans sound great! If you struggle with guilt, you might be interested in some of my articles about people pleasing. I have worked through some major guilt issues too. 🙂

  9. I have had a year of deep sadness & a year that has shown me just how strong I am
    I was diagnosed with stage 3 metastasise breast cancer last year & lost my mum to pancreatic cancer in May this year
    I’ve had the all clear so for with a breast reconstruction left to do
    I can’t go back to my old job
    I have no clue what it is I’m meant to do
    I will try this exercise
    Thank you it may just be exactly what I needed to stop the stress of trying to figure it out

  10. Tea and fruit and muffin with playful Magpies for the first hour I am up and around. Dress and go to the club for at least one hour of tennis. After tennis take a nice steam and maybe a nice steam with others who want to talk. Time for a healthy lunch. Read for a few hours. Get ready for dinner party. Dance after dinner. After dinner we tango for hours and collapse into bed and sleep through the night!

  11. I just found your website and I love it so far. But I have a question. What do I do when my desperation and hopelessness are so deep that I just can’t imagine that day? And I don’t trust the things that come up when I allow myself to dream for a minute? I think so much is influenced by what I have seen on social media. I think yoga in the morning will make me happy but actually I hate mornings and I am stiff as a stick, so yoga just will not be pleasant in the morning. Do you know what I mean? I romanticize so many things and when I actually try them I fail miserably and find out that my imagination just does not at all match my reality. I hope you have advice for me! best regards, cChrissie

    1. Hi Chrissie,

      I do know exactly what you mean, because I’ve been there. Here are the two things that helped me through it:

      1. Self care on steroids. Good sleep, whole foods, exercise, fresh air, stress reduction – without this foundation nothing will feel good.

      2. Actually doing things and keeping track of what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Forget about what everyone else likes or what you see other people doing on social media. What have you genuinely enjoyed doing in the past? Try to do those things again. And then try new things. Keep a list of what you like and don’t like.

  12. My ideal day would be to wake up after a restful sleep without an alarm clock, and organised, quiet morning as the kids get ready for school, then off to my favourite cafe for my morning late while I read or write. **
    Then back home to go to my easel and paint all day while I listen to wonderful music or sew up the range of kidswear I design and make and sell in my store that is manned by my awesome staff.

    The ** actually mean, this is where reality stops and my dreaming takes over. I actually do have a very cool store but keeping it open takes more time and effort keeping the machine going. Which stifles the creativity that I find so grounding for me.

    I’m not far off from the one or two days st the easel.

  13. I really needed to read that…I’m a professional truck driver who doesn’t know how to come home to HIMSELF. My eating, sleeping and social habits have been so irratic for so long, that I don’t know what the core state of being would be for me… In addition to hating routine, I hate the idea of ” settling down ” for ANYONE or ANYTHING… INCLUDING myself.

  14. What if you can’t figure out what your ideal day would be? I don’t have any talents that will make money to work from home and I’m not well enough mentally or physically to take on a job outside of the house. I don’t like anything enough to do it, literally. I’m seriously worthless and I don’t know what to do! Therapy doesn’t help I’ve done it for years and I’m sick & tired of not being good at or liking anything. Anyway I just wish I could figure out what to do with my life. I’m 28, in a honestly horrible living situation that I haven’t been able to change for years because I can’t work outside of the house or get an online job that pays more than pennies at a time. My parents help me as much as they can but they’re getting older every day and I want to be able to support myself. How can I like or love myself when I can’t even support myself? God dammit. I wish someone could help me. Oh well sorry for wasting space like that lol your blog is great and thank you so much for all of your tips! I wish I could be as smart and as talented as you! You are very blessed, Miss!

    1. Hi Alexa, I can actually really relate to your feelings of “I don’t like anything enough to do it” and “I’m sick & tired of not being good at or liking anything.” I was in that place for a long time and definitely very much so back when I was 28. What got me out of that slump was a whole lot of self discovery work. Sometimes we have talents we are unaware of because we haven’t had a chance to acquire the skills needed to actually put those talents to use.

      Are you on my email list? I’m asking because I have something related to self discovery coming out in September that you might be interested in.

  15. I love this! It’s so inspiring! I myself love to read & write? How did you get paid to write? I am wanting to write my own book one day, but I’m not sure how to get started.

    1. Hi Sam! I’m so glad to hear it was inspiring!

      I get paid to write a couple of different ways. First of all, I make money from the ads that you see all over my website. Second, I wrote an ebook bundle that people can buy through my website. And third, I also wrote and produced an online course. Eventually, I’d also like to self-publish and sell ebooks on Amazon.

      Regardless of how you want to make a living as a writer (blogger, freelance writer, self-published book author, traditionally published book author), there’s a bunch of info out there on how to get started. You could google or buy a book about it. That’s how I got started figuring it all out and how I’ve been learning more as I’ve gotten further – by googling, reading books, and taking some online courses.

      It hasn’t been the easiest road and it has taken me quite a while to figure everything out and generate enough traffic to my website, but it has been SO worth it in the end. 🙂

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