The Single Most Helpful Exercise For Figuring Out What You Should Do With Your Life
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.
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 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 ok to have several different versions. 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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