“For many, the big choices in life aren’t really choices; they are quicksand. You just sink into the place you happen to be standing.” Author David Brooks is credited with expressing those words, but we ALL know what it’s like to live them. We move through each day, letting the quicksand around our feet draw us in as the weeks, months and years pass by. Dreams fade out of sight; regrets accumulate and eventually we just feel “stuck.” It is what it is. Ahhh – what could have been.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We admire visionaries across all walks of life, those individuals who see past the day to day. Those who see the world differently – those who have identified their northern star and are steadily moving in that direction, regardless of the quicksand that grasps the rest of the world around them. These individuals are no more gifted or talented than the rest of us. Rather, they have a crystal clear vision of the person they are becoming and the future impact they are moving toward. That powerful, personal vision is a resource available to any of us who choose to tap into it. In this special episode, I’ll walk you through the preparation and the process that will allow you to create your own clear personal vision for the coming year. It will challenge, energize and inspire you. It will give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, light a fire in your heart and provide a steady wind in your sails. In the end, it will help set you on a clear path to what might just be the most important year of you life.
Welcome to this special episode of the Catalyst 360 Podcast, your trusted source for engaging, evidence-based, practical guidance to optimize your health, wellness, performance, and life! I’m your host Dr. Brad Cooper and we’re grateful you’ve chosen to spend a few minutes out of your week with us.
A few thoughts out of the gate to keep in mind:
- We’re not talking about goals or resolutions. When we start with New Year’s Resolutions – or any health, wellness or performance goal, it’s often based on someone else’s approach/life/recommendations or someone else’s plan for OUR life. As a result, they’re bound to fail because we’re trying to be someone else. The vision sets the stage FOR the goals. Once you have a clear vision, your goals naturally align with who you really are – and as a result will often come to fruition almost automatically.
- If you’ve never done this (vision thing) before, it can feel out of reach, overwhelming, beyond us, something for a character out of a movie or book.
- There isn’t a “right way” of going about this. I’ll share some key steps and some personal examples gathered from the 11 years I’ve been doing this in my own life. But this is YOUR vision, so make all the tweaks and adjustments desired in order to make it truly yours.
- Speaking of “doing,” I’m convinced that while it’s fun to complete the process and have a clear vision sitting on your desk, computer wallpaper or other spots as a powerful reminder, the GREATEST value is in the process of creating the vision. With that in mind, please take the time to really dig into this process. The more you give it, the more benefit you’ll receive.
So where do we start? We start by considering who we are right now. What are the characteristics or aspects of our lives, our core selves, that we know have the potential to come to the forefront in a positive manner?Whether work, family, friends, clients, team, co-workers, community, running group, church, etc, what are some of those aspects we see in ourselves that are waiting to be fed, nourished… that will allow us to become the person we were created to be – the person we have the potential to become. We’re beginning by thinking beyond goals. Actually, it’s our PRE goals. We’re considering WHO is the person I’m growing to become. We’re moving from the WHAT (the goals) to the WHO (who I’m becoming). But don’t worry – as mentioned earlier, in the process of doing so, the WHAT is influenced more powerfully than any other single step you might take.
You may have heard the story of the old Cherokee Indian chief was teaching his grandson about life. The grandfather said, “A fight is going on inside me – a fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you grandson…and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.” The grandson ponders this for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee smiled and simply said, “The one we choose to feed”.
Today we’re going to identify the specific characteristics of the wolf we want to fuel, and determine ways to move in that direction that will be lasting – instead of just a temporary fix or an attempt to live out someone else’s desire for our life.
Grab a journal or notepad to collect all the seemingly random thoughts & ideas as we go through the following steps.Consider who you are at your core, what the best version of yourself might look like. Think back over the past year or two. What are the Joys… Struggles… Perceived holes? If you’ve been using a journal recently, now is a great time to pull that out and look back over some of the thoughts that have bubbled to the surface through that mining tool. As a sidenote, we did a special episode on a new way to approach journaling, including prompts and a range of unique strategies, back in episode #246 of the Catalyst 360 podcast, so that might be worth checking out at some point. Lastly, if you created some form of a personal vision in the last couple of years, pull that out too.
Now that you have the juices flowing and perhaps some random collection of words, phrases and concepts on paper, it’s a great time to drill down into the F5.
The F5 represent 5 key aspects of our lives:
ii. Foundations (fuel & fitness)
iii. Family (including friendships)
v. Fields of Play (career and hobbies)
The F5 can also provide some valuable insights about not only the direction of our lives, but also who and what might be feeding each of those. It’s a good time to reflect on what books we’re reading, podcasts we’re tuning into, newsletters we digest, people we’re spending time around and more. The old saying about computers – “garbage in, garbage out” applies to an even greater degree to the vision for our lives. Are we leaning on Instagram and Netflix to fuel our vision? Or are we seeking out nutrient-dense brain fuel as we move forward?
As you go through each of the F5, resist the urge to set specific goals and think more about the person you are becoming. For example, in the Foundations area of fuel & fitness, don’t think “I am going to start running 3x/week.” Instead, perhaps you see the future version of yourself being active, a person who is able to play basketball with your grandkids or hike with friends. The personal vision would encompass the active and healthy version of you. Later on you can consider the route toward that vision, such as your running idea. But for now, stay focused on the vision.
As you go through each aspect of the F5, you’re considering those aspects of your true self that are currently in the shadows – or perhaps in the darkness. They’re you. Maybe they haven’t come to the forefront in years – or even decades – and you’re ready to bring them out into the light again. You are not trying to become a different person. Instead you are feeding the elements that matter most.
At the end of this episode, I’m going to walk you through some of the specifics around my own journey to develop a personal vision for the coming year. It’s just an example – not “the” example. But I thought it might help to hear a real-life example and how I go from the notepad scribbling to that life-engaging vision over a period of a few weeks.
Back to your list. You’ve started collecting a variety of thoughts from your journal, quiet sitting and the F5 components. What has come to the forefront as you’ve gone through this process so far? Verses from songs? Quotes you’ve heard? A photo you saw at a museum? A meaningful word or phrase? Just start jotting those down in one place. No rhyme or reason. Don’t try to be organized or coordinated in your structure. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to be congruent with one another. They don’t have to even be clear as to why you’re writing them down. Just let it all come out. We’ll do our filtering, organizing and creating later. Who am I? Where is there potential growth? What aspects of my true self remain hidden to the world or underdeveloped in their potential?
Now – as we move to the next step of beginning to pull things together, this is a good time to remind you this personal vision is PERSONAL. Yes, maybe you’ll choose to share it with a trusted friend or a family member. But our purpose in doing this is NOT to give you something to turn into a poster for all the world to see or the perfect social media post or something you’re going to give to your boss. This is your personal vision. Your… personal… vision. It is for you. Keeping that in the forefront will hopefully take the pressure off if you’re like me and think “well I’m not an artist” or something similar. This is not a box-checking activity. Your goal isn’t to “finish” your personal vision. Your goal is to CREATE your personal vision. Yes – it’s easier to take a shortcut and choose a verse or a word or a phrase for your year and be done with it. Those are great. But each of those involve “picking” from someone else’s creation. Developing a true personal vision is YOUR creation – and in so doing, you bring out a part of you that might have previously been sitting unnoticed in the shadows.
Once you have a bunch of those words/phrases/concepts on paper, it’s a great time for a walk. I like to take my list and a little digital recorder I often use to collect thoughts on long walks, runs or solo drives as an easy way to capture thoughts but a little notepad can work just as well. I’d encourage you to leave your phone behind or put it on airplane mode so your pondering isn’t interrupted by a text, call or temptation to do a quick check of social media. What patterns come to the forefront? What visuals appear in your head? Which are key elements and which are secondary? From this, you might begin to see pieces of a picture come to life.
No pressure on this picture idea. The first personal vision I did back in 2013 was a creative drawing my daughter Danielle did on a tablet we had with colored words that were meaningful to me. Very simple – very meaningful – and it got me started down that path 11 years ago.
Maybe you begin with a scene that comes to mind about your life. Maybe it’s a pathway, or an ocean or a forest or a hilltop or a hallway or a sunrise or any number of options. You’ll be adding various details, but the first step is the scene on which you’ll build. Last year I started with mountaintops poking up out of the clouds as my baseline scene and then added from there. This year it was a forest with light peeking through the tree tops.
Then, as you add specifics from all those words you captured previously, it’s similar to designing a room or putting a puzzle together, or structuring a garden or an outfit. You have your background scene and now you begin considering where the other concepts fit together within that scene. For the artists listening, you might have fun drawing or sketching this out or maybe even painting your vision. For me, I pull up a powerpoint slide, add my background scene picture and then begin adding words and pictures to begin bringing together that vision. There are no rules and you’re not being graded. This is your vision. I might suggest not to build in tooooo many concepts so your vision remains clear vs. feeling like a bag of marbles– but that’s up to you.
And then we let it simmer. You’ve got your background. You’ve got a handful of words or pictures in the forefront. I’ll print it out and stick it on my desk for a few days to look at it in passing. You want to let it sit… see what resonates and what doesn’t. Reconsider different words or some of the pictures. Do they really represent the vision you’re seeking to bring to life? Or do you want to eliminate, replace, adjust in various ways?
Simmer… adjust… simmer… adjust… over and over until you look at it and say “yes! That’s it!!” I think this year I had almost a dozen iterations over the 4-5 weeks I was simmering and adjusting. Remember – the goal isn’t to get it done quickly. The goal is create a meaningful vision that resonates for you and captures the person you are becoming. That doesn’t happen in a microwave 😊.
The creation process is the most important aspect. But it’s also fun to treat your clear vision as your own version of the mariner’s northern star as you move through the year. I’ll print it out and replace the prior year’s vision with it in a frame that sits in front of my desk. Other options might include using as your computer or phone wallpaper, keeping in the front of your journal or any number of other options. To keep your vision in the forefront of your life, consider measuring your monthly or quarterly goals next to your vision. If the goals aren’t congruent with your vision, adjust or eliminate them. When congruent with your vision, you’re likely to find the goals almost achieve themselves.
One other thing to consider. If you have a trusted friend, personal health & wellness coach or small group with whom mutual accountability is built in, it can be fun – and valuable – for the two of you to share your final outcome and some of the reasons/concepts that went into it. Maybe you even check in with one another every few months to see how things are developing. In this setting, the vision sharing provides an easy way to help one another when facing a difficult decision. Ask “is this consistent with your vision?” The answer to that question may help point the way.Coaches – you probably don’t want to share your vision with your clients directly but this could be an outstanding process to help them work through that could guide future discussions.
Would a specific example be helpful? Here’s a brief rundown on my process this year. Remember – this is just one example and not “the” example. But maybe it’ll help bring things to life or spark some ideas if you’re new to this process. So here’s the general flow of the process I utilized this year.
First, this was easily my most valuable year of journaling in decades for a variety of reasons (I discussed it in episode #246 if you want to give that a listen). So that provided a solid baseline of collected thoughts/ideas over the past few months. But the process really kicked off almost 2 months ago on Nov 7th. Suzanna and I have developed a routine of getting away to a secluded technology-free spot in the mountains together for about 48 hours each fall. No computers, TV, phones, etc. This provides a distraction-free setting to take a deeper dive in reviewing the prior year and do some preliminary planning for the coming year. I also used that time to begin the process I’ve described here.
Once I’d collected a range of words/phrases/ideas and done a review of the F5, I did my best to pull it all together onto a page in my journal. You’d laugh if you saw it 😊. It included a stick figure in a science lab, working with a variety of test tubes and beakers. The beakers represented various key aspects of my life, from our business and marriage to personal components like fitness, involvement with the university and the changing role of Dad with all three of our adult and married kids. While I can tell it was a lab with test tubes and beakers, you probably would have trouble figuring out what in the heck was in the picture. But remember – that didn’t matter. It was just to get the process started.
I then let that rudimentary sketch simmer for the rest of our time away from technology, adding a few tweaks that came to mind while hiking or sitting by the wood burning stove with a cup of coffee on the cold mornings.
Back at the office, I pulled out my computer and got to work turning my sketch into something more recognizable. A forest scene with sunlight peeking through became the backdrop. I added a “Life Lab” sign with a reminder about the 500 day journey (a topic for another day), our new logo, a trio of pictures of people whose mindset I’m looking to integrate and 7 test tubes, numbered to match up with the 7 key areas I’d previously noted for “testing.” I printed it out and let it sit on my desk for a few days. Something wasn’t right. It had the key items, but the test tubes didn’t resonate. I’m an outdoors guy. Test tubes and beakers? That’s not me. And then it hit – a fire! At my core, I’m generally an energetic, passionate guy who loves to light a meaningful fire across a range of settings. At the same time, when discouraged, I can let the fire dwindle to almost nothing. We’re facing some unique challenges in the coming year and the fire – combined with seven stacks of wood representing each specific area I mentioned previously.
At that point I was pretty psyched about it. The shift from the “sterile lab” to “feeding the fire” felt like me. Once that was in place, the rest of the changes were subtle. For example, my faith is important to me but I’m not always very good about pausing and listening. So the next version included a slightly faded old-school phone booth to represent getting in a quiet space to tap into what I would refer to as God’s will.The printed version of this one sat on the deska few more days before I added one more pair of key updates. We’re going through an exciting transition right now, but every true transition means leaving the old behind and moving forward. Adding a fertile pile of ashes with a Phoenix bird rising out of it brought that to life. I made a few subtle changes related to colors, positions and wording but just one final significant change. The “Life Lab” sign had stuck around to keep the 500 day concept alive but the word “lab” seemed out of place. Then the final pieces came into focus. Another pattern I’ve developed over my 56 years has been a “grind it out, count it down” mentality. It gets you to the finish line and there’s a time and a place for that. However, in so doing, you forget to enjoy the sunshine or smell the proverbial roses along the way.And so, to put the final touches on the vision for the coming year, the previous “500 Day Life Lab” sign was changed to read “500 Days of Living,” and a pic of Maya Angelou was added to my “mindset wall”, reminding me both of the extended timeline but more importantly to live each day fully and joyfully along the way.
So that’s it! That is my vision for the coming year. It’s likely that little to none of this resonates with you but hopefully the specifics will spur some thoughts, bring out the practical steps, and be a reminder to give it time to allow your personal vision to come to life. We’ll include a link in the description if you want to see the actual final version out of curiosity.
Thanks for joining us for this special episode of the Catalyst 360 Podcast. We have some really exciting announcements just around the corner. In the meantime, if you’re a coach considering pursuing your NBHWC-approved coach certification, our first cohort of the year kicks off in a few weeks. And if you’re an employer, Employee Assistance Program or consultant looking for ways to bring best-in-class coaching to support physical, emotional and mental health of employees, please reach out to us. Results@CatalystCoachingInstitute.com.
And now it’s time to be a Catalyst living out a clear personal vision. This is Dr. Brad Cooper of the Catalyst Coaching Institute. I’ll speak with you soon on another episode of the Catalyst 360 podcast or maybe over on the YouTube Coaching Channel.