A lot of us have these fantasies of what our lives will be like after we’ve achieved a certain milestone. After we’ve gotten the job, met the right person, saved up the money, and so on.
But – and I still remember where I was, the minute I realised this – the stuff we put into those fantasies isn’t necessarily correlated to the milestone itself.
It’s not “after I’ve gotten the job, I’ll enjoy the challenging work and the professional satisfaction.”
It’s more like “after I’ve gotten the job, I’ll wake up every morning before work and go run around the reservoir.” Or “after we’ve moved into a bigger apartment, we can host a weekly game night with friends.” You create this picture of yourself, living an idealised life, even though much of that life could be achieved before you hit that milestone.
Yes, there’s something to be said for using a specific purchase (such as that pair of running shoes you’ve been eyeing, the ones you bookmarked after spending an entire afternoon comparing various heel counters and toeboxes) as a reward for hitting a specific goal.
But there’s a lot more to be said for not waiting to live out your vision of what life could be like.
If you want to wake up every morning and go running, set your alarm for 5am tomorrow. (You’ll learn really quickly how much the actual version of you enjoys the idealised version.)
If you want to get your friends together for a weekly game night, try meeting up at the library or at the kind of bar that doesn’t mind a group of people pulling out a deck of cards, or if it’s the hosting aspect that appeals to you more than the game-playing aspect, figure out what kind of event you can host in the space you have right now.
I know you’re probably thinking about all of the reasons why you can’t run at 5am tomorrow (or host a game night, or whatever it is). Maybe your work shift starts at 5:30am, or ends at 2am. Maybe there isn’t a safe running trail nearby. Maybe you really do have to wait until the kids are a little older.
In that case, try to break it down just a little more and find the part of that idealised life that you can put into practice today. Is it that you want to spend more time outside? Is it that you want to spend more time doing physical activity? Do you want to host a game night because you want to try out a new game, or because you want to try out a new recipe? Or is it simply that you want to spend more time having face-to-face conversations with your friends?
Find a small piece of your ideal life that you can turn into reality, and then make it happen.
There are three reasons why this is important.
First of all, it prevents us from putting off the stuff we dream about doing, or from linking unrelated actions and results. In my case, for example, I had mentally linked ‘being a well-known author’ with ‘writing in a room full of beautiful houseplants’.
I came up with this correlation after seeing photos of famous authors’ workspaces; it did not occur to me that I could have the houseplants before the fame. Once I figured out that these two attributes weren’t actually connected, I began buying plants (10 of which are still living).
Second of all, putting your ideal life into action as soon as possible lets you know whether you actually like that life. Maybe you aren’t really a baker, or a birdwatcher, or a biker. Maybe you discover that you enjoy going to the gym, but you prefer the group cardio classes to the weight room. Maybe asking your kids to identify their favourite part of their day doesn’t work at dinner, but it does work at bedtime.
Third, and maybe most importantly, filling your life with the stuff you really want gives you less room for the stuff you don’t want. If you prioritise family dinners or weekly game nights or morning runs, you’ll know when you need to turn down opportunities that might interfere with those priorities.
Yes, you’ll have to learn how to say no, but you’ll also get a better sense of which choices bring you closer to the life you want and which choices move you further away from it.
So. Don’t wait to start implementing the life you dream about having someday. Work backwards from the life you want, and see how much of it you can fit into the life you currently have.