Time has always been a challenge for me. I am never sure if Time is a friend or a foe. There never seems to be enough Time to do everything I want, but then when faced with a day where nothing is scheduled, I wonder how I am ever going to fill up the Time. When I’m on vacation, lying on the beach, enjoying the sun and surf, I think – In 7 days it'll all be over, and I’ll be back at my desk at work. Occasionally Time flies, and I wonder where it went, and then, stuck in a long line or traffic jam, Time just seems to creep along
Let's just say that Time and I are in a troubled relationship. So when I took some time off a few weeks ago, I decided not to do my usual thing which is to fill up each and every moment with an activity, task, or event. But this time I decided to do something different.
“So what are you going to do with your days off, honey?” My wife asked me.
“Nothing,” I told her.
I saw her reaching for a pen and pad – NOT THE HONEY-DO LIST! – So I quickly added, “I mean I am going to have an artist’s retreat.”
She didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know either, but it bought me time to work out a plan. What I decided to do was to put into practice what I've been writing and sketching about these past few months. I began with this question: What will my ideal life look like in five years?
I asked this same question to my nephew a few weeks earlier, and he said, "In five years, I plan to make most of my money by writing and publishing science fiction stories.” He had completed a couple of manuscripts and was working on revising them to submit to a publisher.
Being able to picture clearly and identify just exactly what your ideal life will look like is a great exercise for anyone and for those of us who live with anxiety, procrastination, and perfectionism, it is a relief. So what did I do during those days off? I scheduled moments to spend with Time to think about, dream about, and picture what my ideal life would look like in five years in as concrete a way as I could by incorporating as many of my senses in this picture as possible. Most importantly, according to Marc Allen, I did it in a relaxed, and easy going way.
So I sat in my comfy chair each morning with a notebook, pen, and hot cup of coffee. I set the timer for 20 minutes and began to write about what I would like to be doing in five years. At first, looking at that empty page was scary. “What am I going to write? What do I have to say? Nothing is going to come out.”
My Inner Critic was on high alert and shouting into my ear. But I was surprised that after a few sentences of writing what I would look like or where I was living, ideas began to flow. I wrote about my ideal self -- strong, flexible, and full of energy. I wrote about my artistic self -- writing and drawing. I wrote about my adventurous self - trips to Europe, hiking in the mountains, and kayaking. I wrote about my contemplative-self - relaxed and mindful. And each time I ran out of words I just wrote “I don’t know what to write next” until the words began to flow again – which they always did.
At first it felt a little weird, but eventually, each scene became clearer and clearer with more detail and specifics. I pictured myself holding books I’d published and reading articles I’d written in the Lima News. I imagined that I was sketching street scenes in New Orleans. I looked slimmer, stronger, more flexible – fitting into pants I hadn’t worn in a while. There I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and visiting friends in California and Massachusetts. I tried my best to be as concrete as possible.
It took a few mornings of this daydream writing – setting the timer for twenty or thirty minutes - and just enjoying watching this scene emerge onto the paper. Morning time was best for me because the house was quiet, the coffee fresh, and I felt more in the mood.
I wrote this scene until it was very concrete. I didn't put up any barriers or roadblocks or excuses like money, health, etc. What I imagined was my dream, my new story, and I could dream anything I liked.
The most important first step to take is to have a clear idea of what I love and what’s important to me otherwise, worry, anxiety and fear will fill my thoughts with dread and impending doom. So after writing my new scene a few times, I listed the goals and values that were important to me from each scene. (More on how this worked out in the next blog.)
IMPORTANT – DO NOT SHARE THIS WITH ANYONE YET!
And maybe not ever. So many of our dreams and ideas get shot down by well-meaning people who are trying to be helpful and don’t want to see us disappointed; that is, bring us back down to “reality” after we’ve just had such a lovely time in our new story. Don’t let them crush your spirit no matter how well-meaning and helpful they want to be. For now – KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! Just enjoy the view.
If you need some prompts to get you started, the folks who wrote, “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy Workbook” have a nice list that you could use. They suggest giving each of your items a priority and even writing an intention to go with each one. Pick a couple of them, set the timer, and start writing.
What does your ideal life look like in these areas?
• Something Else?
Why is this important to me?
What is the priority?
What affirmation could I write for this goal?
Stephen Covey also has a helpful idea. He identifies four areas of focus you could use to get started. Pick one, set the timer, and start writing.
The Four Dimensions of Your Life
o Body (Physical Dimension) – exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, relax.
o Brain (Mental Dimension) – read, educate, write, learn new skills.
o Heart (Emotional Dimension) – build relationships, service, and laugh.
o Soul (Spiritual Dimension) – meditate, keep a journal, pray, take in quality media.
As I focused more and more on what I loved, named, and pictured it, I felt less overwhelmed by worry, anxiety, and fear. I could now refocus my dark thoughts of dread and impending doom to the brighter thoughts of my new story. I could think about what I want to do to make this dream a reality; to live the life I want to live.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey;
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy Workbook for Anxiety; John Forsyth Ph.D., George Eifert Ph.D.;
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl Ph.D.;
The Greatest Secret of Them All, Marc Allen.