STRETCH || The Life Plan



Chapter 3

 STRETCH


The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.


It is time to get creative and envision your story for the future. I do this with the help of a ‘vision board’, a visual representation of how I’d like my life to look. Every year I redo my vision board and revisit where I am, what I have put my energy into and what possibilities are next. I update it with new pictures, quotes and words to focus on, and it is my treasure map to guide my next steps. It gives me purpose, clarity, direction and confidence. It keeps me motivated and inspired, and challenges me to stretch beyond a place of comfort.


The result of this simple practice over the past ten years has been a deepening knowledge of my desires, a greater sense of satisfaction and joy as life unfolds, and a growing sense of achievement. I can comfortably say ‘no’, my boundaries are clear and everything is driven towards my core values. It is my map to fall back on when life takes unexpected twists.


Vision boards are also great fun to put together. Positive images pull us forward into new possibilities that fuel us with hope, put us on the road to finding solutions and help us realise that we have the power to make things happen in our lives. A clear vision helps you communicate your intentions to yourself and motivates you to start acting accordingly. After all, how are you going to get where you want to go if you have no idea what success actually looks like?


To get in the driver’s seat of your life, you need to know where you’re heading; without a clear vision, you make yourself life’s passenger. This section is about stretching yourself, stirring up your creative side and mapping your hopes to create the life you most want to live. The goal is to think of exciting possibilities for what could be and to discover the greatest destination for yourself.


Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life

Where will you be three years from now?

Three years is 156 weeks, 1095 days or 1,577,836 minutes. What could you do in that time?


Most of my clients are so busy that they don’t have the space to imagine their future, and they lack the tools to explore the potential of their best possible future selves. They’re very clear on all the things they don’t want, but when I ask them where they would like to be in three years’ time there are a lot of blank faces. The problem with this approach is that when we don’t take control of our own future, life tends to knock us down.


I always start this exercise by writing my age in three years’ time on a piece of paper, and then the ages of my family members. Straight away I have something concrete to help me think about what this unfolding picture might look like.


Then I give myself permission to just let go. To let the past be the past for a moment. To put my doubts and worries to one side. To simply dream that if everything went as well as it could, what would my life look like three years from now?


I write down whatever comes to mind, unedited by my fears and unlimited by lack of money, skills or time. All the hopes and dreams I’m carrying for the next three years of my life are there on the page.


  • *If we remove the restrictions we place on ourselves, we are open to more opportunities. Dream big if you want to live big.

Here are some questions to help kickstart your thoughts:

 

1 If you truly lived your purpose each day, what would you be doing that gave your life meaning?

2 If you were at your best more frequently, how do you think life would feel?

3 If you acted only on your values, what would others say about the way you were living?

4 If your definition of success was being realised, what accomplishment would you be proudest of?

5 If you were mindful of the golden moments in your life, what would you see?

GET SPECIFIC

  •    What kind of work will you be doing? How do you feel about this work?
  •    How much money will you be earning? What are you doing with it?
  •    What’s your health like? How are you getting this result?
  •    Who brings you joy in your life? How do you spend your time together?
  •    What are you learning? What difference does this make in your life?
  •    What do you do for fun? Do you have a hobby or a passion project? Are you travelling?
  •    Where are you living? What makes this feel like a haven?
  •    What have you conquered emotionally?
  •    Who are your role models and mentors?
  •    How are you moving through the world?

EXAMPLE: JACK’S VISION

‘I’m relaxing at a five-star resort in Thailand with my family, enjoying the fruits of success from a very committed year of work. I’m on a career high after landing a prestigious and lucrative promotion that I’ve been working towards my entire career, and I feel creatively satisfied in my work. We own a beautiful home on the water, which we’re renovating, and we’ve just settled on our second investment property purchase. We’re planning a two-month family adventure around Europe next year. My wife and I enjoy fortnightly “date nights” and weekend getaways without the kids every three to four months. I’ve spent the past couple of years working on my self-development as a person, and I feel happy and content with who I am, both personally and professionally. It’s liberating to experience such freedom as a result of planning who I am and where I want to get to.’

EXAMPLE: KATE’S VISION

‘After working full-time as a hospital nurse for many years, my partner and I have managed to pay off most of our mortgage and our kids are old enough to need less from us, so I’ve returned to university to pursue a higher degree in an area I’ve become passionate about – midwifery. I’m only working three days a week at the hospital, so while I still enjoy the adrenaline rush of a busy shift, I also have more balance in my life. As well as studying, I’m able to take more time to exercise and look after my own health, and see more of my partner and children. I do some volunteer work in the community, educating disadvantaged women on looking after their health and caring for their babies, and get a lot of satisfaction from knowing I’ve contributed positively to their lives. Because I’ve learned to prioritise myself, I’m able to give energy to others without resenting it.’


  • *Creating a vision and purpose is essential. Without them, you are a passenger in life.

THE GRAND ADVENTURE

Think of your life as a grand adventure. To get creative you’ll need some space and a blank page or board, and permission from yourself to just let go. Start with your mind in a place of abundance. There is such abundance in life that many of us do not see or acknowledge. When you think of all the things you have and what is around you, you are living abundantly. There are flowers, trees, fresh air and running water – so much to be grateful for. Focusing on what we already have, and the choices we can make, is a great place to start.

HOW TO CREATE YOUR THREE-YEAR VISION

  •    Write down your age, and the ages of your family members, in three years’ time.
  •    Put your mind in a place of abundance. Focus on the things you already have and the choices you’re free to make.
  •    Try to spend 15–20 minutes each day for three days in a row just writing down what you hope your life will be like three years from now.
  •    Be as specific and detailed as possible, so you can see, feel and hear what this new reality will be like.
  •    Notice which ideas you keep coming back to once you’ve completed this exercise.
  • * Beware of dream stealers: people who encourage you to play it safe and make you believe you’ll never reach your dreams.

What’s on your vision board?

How can you start to make your three-year vision a reality? I use my one-year vision board as a means of turning my longer-term dreams into shorter-term realities. It helps me paint a picture of the future I want to achieve, providing a daily touchpoint to inspire and guide me.


For example, if you want to be healthier, an image of the type of food you want to be eating will remind you of this each day. When you can see things, you can start feeling them, and then you can start believing in them and setting up the structures to get you there.


Creativity and visualisation are life skills that can be practised. Remember, ‘like attracts like’. Whatever we focus on, we give energy to. If we focus on stress, we get more stress. If we want joy, we need to feel and acknowledge joy when it is there; if we want wellbeing, we need to feel and focus on wellbeing. What are you envisioning for the upcoming year?


Start by simply printing out pictures or cutting out images or words that inspire you from magazines. Look through books for words, quotes and affirmations that warm your heart. Think in key themes – like career, family, health, finance, fun and home – of the kind of life you wrote about creating. The more we can see, hear and feel what this vision of our future will be like, the stronger the pull to make it our reality will be. Pictures, words, symbols and colours are a great way to start tangibly creating this new reality.


There are also digital options for creating vision boards you might like to consider if you want to see yours on your smartphone or as a screensaver. Whatever process you choose, be sure you can see your vision daily to guide you forward.


  • *Let your vision board be your gift, your light and your constant reminder of how you want to grow and evolve.

QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU MAKE YOUR VISION BOARD

  •    Where will you be living a year from now?
  •    What will you be doing for work a year from now?
  •    Who will you be with a year from now?
  •    What emotions will you be feeling in a year’s time?
  •    How will you look after your health in a year’s time?
  •    Who will be inspiring your journey in a year’s time?
  •    What will you be learning a year from now?
  •    What are you telling yourself with these pictures?
  •    Is this the life you most want to be living?

How active is your vision board? This is your destiny, so make it vivid, vibrant and vital. Make it count.


Once you have completed your board, hang it in a spot where you can see it daily. Mine is in my office; some people hang theirs behind their bedroom door so they wake up to it. When you see it often, you start to commit it to memory; it becomes a part of your destiny and meditation process. Let your subconscious mind continually absorb this new reality every day and night, reminding you where you are heading in life. Allow the opportunities to flow into your life, and because you know where you want to go, you will see them clearly.


My vision board represents the space I need in life, the wellbeing that is at my foundation, my relationships, my role models and the characteristics in myself that I want to develop, my house/car and other belongings, and the places I want to travel. It includes my hobbies and the feelings I want to feel, as well as the basic things I am grateful for in life. It represents my purpose, values and definition of success. It gives me the confidence, optimism and courage to create the life I most want to be living.


  • *Success is when I approve of myself and what I am doing each day.



How do you stretch yourself?

What was the last new thing you learnt? We are creatures of progress, with a lifetime’s hunger for improvement. The very fact that we continue to evolve over the course of our lives is evidence of our ongoing need for growth and learning.


Yet as we get older, the chance to discover new approaches, new ideas and new wonders often fades away in the everyday business of life. But without opportunities to stretch ourselves, we soon stagnate and plateau into lives of boredom and disappointment. So, what are you learning?


I find that I learn best by listening, so I’m a big fan of audio books and podcasts. Truth is, it doesn’t matter what form your learning takes, whether it’s reading books, attending a formal course or public lecture, taking part in a conversation or observing an informal life lesson. The point is simply to seek opportunities that stretch us just beyond our comfort zone and offer new challenges that help us grow.


That’s right: it’s not enough just to absorb information, we actually need to apply what we learn to our lives to enjoy the true value of our discoveries. One of the easiest ways to do this is to think about the questions that new insights might prompt us to ask about the lives we’re living.


  • *Seek out challenges that stretch you just beyond your comfort zone and offer new opportunities for growth.

HOW COULD I EXPERIMENT WITH THIS IDEA IN MY LIFE?

Here are some of my favourite questions to fire up my brain and get me stretching a little further:

  •    If there was one thing I could do based on what I’ve just learnt, what would it be?
  •    If I lived my life by this lesson, where would I be three years from now? Is this what I want?
  •    How might this lesson have an impact on my vision for the year ahead?
  •    If there was no chance of failure, what things would I be willing to try?
  •    What would it take to master this part of life? Am I up for it?
  •    Where can I learn more about this idea? Who could I talk to about it?

GOING FURTHER

Here are some more questions I like to ask myself to stretch my life vision further when I feel things have become too comfortable:

  •    If I were to fully live my life and feel a holistic sense of wellbeing, what could I do right now?
  •    How would I feel about adding five daring goals that really would be a stretch?
  •    How can I be more specific in each area of my life?
  •    What makes my heart sing?
  •    If I had all the money and success that I desire, what would I do with it?

Have you mapped your hopes?

Now you know where your life is headed in the longer term (your three-year vision) and the shorter term (your one-year vision board) and the places you might be able to stretch yourself, it’s time to figure out how you’ll get from where you are to where you want to go. Yes, it’s time for a little reality check to see what goals you’re really willing to set.


You see, while most of us believe tomorrow could be better than today, only half of us believe we can actually make it so. And this is the difference between wishing for the future we want to create and hoping for it. To have hope, we need some clear ‘want-to’ (rather than ‘have-to’) goals, pathways to move us towards these goals, and a plan to maintain our willpower to get us to the final result.


Hope is the work of your head and your heart. Not only does it lift your spirits, it also buoys your energy, makes life worthwhile and changes your day-to-day behaviour. So, what are you hoping for?


Start by identifying three to five goals you want to accomplish this year. I start by looking at my vision board and noting down some specific goals for the year ahead.

FIVE STEPS TO CLARIFY YOUR GOALS

  •    What are your goals in simple terms?
  •    Are you clear on your specific objectives?
  •    Why are you doing this?
  •    What do you really want to achieve?
  •    Do your goals have depth and do you really understand them?

Rather than thinking ‘I’ll be more healthy, both physically and mentally’, be more specific: ‘I’ll do yoga at least three times a week, meditate before bed at least three times a week, and make sure every meal contains some fresh produce.’ Make sure the goals you set are achievable, as there’s no point in setting unrealistic goals destined for failure.


Then, try to find at least three pathways – actions you can take – to make these goals a reality. This could be booking yourself into a yoga course, putting a reminder note on your bedside table to meditate before going to sleep, and spending half an hour on Sundays to plan the food you are going to eat over the coming week. I try to think about what I’ll do each day, each week, and each month to start getting the outcome I want. Again, try to be as specific as possible; so, rather than thinking ‘Get more training’, try ‘Complete a short course learning leadership techniques.’


Next, think of at least one obstacle that may arise for each of your pathways. Perhaps working late and last-minute social occasions could disrupt your yoga. Studies have found we’re more likely to reach our goals if we plan for the obstacles upfront, so be honest about what might slow you down, trip you up or make you give up completely.


Finally, write down all the things you can do to maintain your willpower as you set about making your goals a reality. How will you make the journey enjoyable? Is there someone, a friend, work colleague or family member, who can support you along the way? How will you measure your progress? What will you do to celebrate the small milestones? These details will be vital for helping you achieve the outcomes you desire.

MAKE YOUR HOPES A REALITY

  •    Carry them with you all day.
  •    Write them on your bathroom mirror in fluorescent texta.
  •    Put them alongside your vision board.
  •    Program them into your phone.
  •    Write them on a card and store it in your wallet.
  •    Copy them onto the front page of your diary or planner so they greet you when you open it each day.

MY TIP

When setting your goals, start with your overall vision, including those big dreams and lofty pie-in-the-sky ambitions. This will help you break them down into smaller wins, with each step taking you closer to your final goal. I write down my intention and affirmation for each day in the morning, so I really focus and get that sense of achievement; no matter how small the task is, it is on track with my vision.


  • *We’re more likely to reach our goals if we plan for the obstacles upfront, so be honest about what might slow you down, trip you up or make you give up completely.
  • *If you don’t have time to write down your goals, when are you going to find the time to accomplish them?


SUMMARY

As you travel towards your vision, keep a daily journal that helps you celebrate and be grateful for the progress, big and small, that you’re making each day. This simple discipline has been found to give us the energy and optimism to keep moving towards our goals.


This is one of the areas I spend a lot of time on in my life. Thinking about my vision, how I’m stretching myself, the hopes I’m focused on achieving and my sense of gratitude are how I create the incredible life I’m living. It is creative, it is fun and it keeps me focused on being me. It also helps me stay active, inspired, motivated and focused on putting energy into the things I really want for my life.

{ Words to ponder }

1 Live your life on purpose.

2 Visualise the feelings, thoughts and things that you want in life.

3 Allow yourself to dream.

4 Enjoy being creative.

5 Love the ‘now’ and the process of creation.

6 What you focus on increases.

7 Create bite-sized tasks that put you in the direction of your vision.

8 Always have a daily list of goals and intentions so you stay on track.

9 You are your own best friend.

TIPS AND TRICKS

  •    Create your vision based on your own core values.
  •    Decide that this is your life and you own it.
  •    Think three years down the track and plant seeds that will bear fruit.
  •    Be clear on your vision for the next twelve months and what you want to accomplish.
  •    Seek sources of learning and ask questions that stretch your thinking.
  •    Map your hopes and act accordingly.
  •    When you see an inspiring image or a real-life moment that really reflects who you want to be, capture it on your smartphone and add it to your moodboard. Start a collection. It really will come in handy.
  •    Be specific about something you want to learn – how to do a headstand, master your phobia of public speaking or learn to speak Hebrew – then map out a specific plan to get those skills.
  •    Each day, program reminders into your smartphone that include actions you need to take to achieve goals, like run 10 kilometres in preparation for the half-marathon, transfer $100 to your credit card to stay on target for eliminating debt or organise a ‘date night’ for next Saturday.
  •    Remember to keep tasks bite-sized! Break them down so you can make smart, steady progress.
  •    Keep your vision board and goals visible. A plan that gets filed away will be forgotten with the endless distractions of day-to-day life.
  •    Think about the ‘dream stealers’ in your life. Who are they and how will you limit their negative impact on your life plans?
  •    Practise gratitude – find ways to add gratitude into the everyday. Create cues for moments when you’ll consciously identify what you are grateful for. This could be while you’re waiting at traffic lights, as you sip your first cup of tea for the day, as you begin a workout or while putting on your make-up.
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collectg wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for hte endless immensity of the sea.






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