Back in 2012 I first wrote the post, “How To Create A New Life.”
It lays out a technique that I used, with great success to change everything about my life. Short version, write out what your life would be like on your perfect average day. Do it in extreme detail. Forget about it and then notice that 6 months later, you’re living that way now.
I rewrote that post a few times (almost every time I did the exercise and had a new insight). A few years have gone by now and I think that I’ve refined the process enough to warrant a completely new post. Here is that post. Btw, life does not suck.
Phase 1: The Dreamer, The Realist, and The Critic.
This is Walt Disney’s brainstorming method. It works. I wrote about it first in the post, “How To Be A Creative Machine.”
In this scenario we’re applying it to lifestyle design. The goal is to get from, “hmm. that’d be cool.” To bulletproof real world plans. The magic is in the system. The realist and the critic will assassinate any bullshit that you’re just telling yourself to sound good. You’ll be uncomfortable. That’s good. You’re going to argue with yourself during this exercise and the end product should look good.
Overview: You begin as the dreamer, writing out what you want to have in life, how you want things to be, what you’d like to achieve. Then pass it on to the realist who does his thing, and then onto the critic who tears it all apart. This is a writing exercise and thought experiment. It is a format in which to have unbridled dialogue with yourself and end up with clear answers that you have a deep understanding of.
A. The Dreamer.
There are no limitations. Anything goes. Reach for the stars. The things you’re writing about as the dreamer should excite you.
I like to separate things under the following topics: Health (Sub-categories: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Financial), Personal Fulfillment, Relationships, & Miscellaneous.
The miscellaneous is where I put things like, “I want 10 bespoke tailored suits.”
Follow whatever format works for you. Use the topics that excite you.
B. The Realist
This is where the rationalist get’s to work. I physically move to a different area from where I was the dreamer and mentally put myself into “realist mode.”
The goal is to prove the dreamer right ultimately. But also to provide some tough love if a dream is just totally bananas and impossible. You want to take the big creative goals of the dreamer and convert them into actionable real world plans, with a strategy that makes sense, and could work. Understand the dreamers limitations and barriers and construct a strategy that works in spite of them.
At the same time, feel free to call the dreamer out if they were dreaming too small. Make notes like, “is that the best you have, whimp?” for the dreamers next review.
Realist Legend: (I use this on each dream as short hand).
-RES: Further researched is needed. Not enough information to create plan.
-PLAN: Dream appears to be possible, but a solid real plan of action will be needed to ensure achievement. (I use this when a plan would take longer than 30 seconds or require collaboration with others, etc).
-MEM: Easy to do, just need to remember to do it. Once the exercise is complete all of the MEMs should get put on a list that you install in your morning routine. My list contains things like take vitamin C, drink a large glass of water, etc. Super simple, but easy to forget. So scheduling and setting automated reminders (to install them as habits) is essential. More on this later.
-SCHED: Dream is absolutely feasible, it simply needs to be added to the schedule and completed.
Once the realist has made his notes, he can forward the copy to the Critic.
C. The Critic
The Critic is an asshole. The critic’s job is not to help realize the dream but to point out everything that is wrong with it or could possibly be wrong with it. The critic must be brutally honest and unabashed. The critic should insult the dreamer, and then the realist for humoring the dreamer.
In some cases, the critic will win and have a really defensible argument against a dream.
Example, “You, dreamer, said you’re going to start waking up at 5am everyday and running 2 miles? Really? You wake up after noon every day, eat like shit, and are completely unhealthy. You don’t even own running shoes. You make stupid goals like this all the time. Fail to follow through on them and then quit, making yourself worse off than when you began. You can’t seriously think you have any shot at doing that. Get a clue.” – The Critic.
Sometimes my critic writes things like, “Yeah? So do it already and quit fucking talking about it.” This doesn’t throw the idea away, it just insults me for not having taken steps yet to achieve it.
Other times it says, “I hope you’re prepared to get slapped in the face over and over and eat a lot of shit for a few months to get that. Otherwise you’re fucked from jump street.”
It’s fun to be the critic. But then it’s uncomfortable when he sends things back to the dreamer. That discomfort is fun. Going through it and answering it is what makes the finished product worth something.
Thoughts On This Technique:
When I first did it the realist and critic called out the dreamer a lot on being too cautious. I hadn’t dreamed big enough and I was hard on myself for aiming too small. In round 2 I overcorrected a lot, just to teach the realist and critic a lesson. The realist panicked a little as the new dreams were total systems overload. The critic was a bit condescending but also supportive. My critic commented, “That’s more like it. Try again without being a dick head about it.”
Round 1: Save $5,000
Round 2: Make $6,000,000 per year.
Round 3: Save 1 years worth of basic living expenses ($36,000) & fully fund my Roth IRA account beginning in 2014.
This wasn’t the one and only financial dream, that would make it all great. But it was an exciting prospect which would drastically shift my financial stability (having 1 years expenses saved as an emergency fund) and begin long term retirement savings (via the Roth IRA).
The realist liked it as it was feasible. This would be a bit of a stretch, but not impossible. The realist set up the plan. RES needed for where to get a Roth IRA, what savings plan was needed. How much? Where? When?
The final plan saw me committing to saving 20% of all of my income automatically (never before had I done this). A Roth IRA got opened at Vanguard and an auto-debit from my checking account on the 15th of every month for $458 went there. The remaining savings of $742 was auto-drawn every 2 weeks (the day after I get my paycheck) at $371 each time (because of this I end up with a few extra savings deposits each year, I’m good with that).
The critic was hesitant at first, but when he saw that everything could be automated after it was initially setup he was willing to believe it could work. The critic insisted that I get a $3,000 minimum balance in my checking account first so that I don’t screw myself if something is interrupted in my finances or I accidentally overspend. I agreed and we moved forward.
Within 2 days all of this had been setup and everything now runs automatically. Assuming my income does not go up at all I’ll keep fully funding my Roth IRA and hit my goal of 1 year of living expenses before my 28th birthday.
Each piece of this phase is exceptionally important. Without the dreamer dreaming his dreams, things would be boring, they’d be banal. If the realist is in charge of ideas, nothing cool will ever happen. You’ll lead a life of quiet desperation, but at least it will be realistic.
With just the dreamer, nothing ever get’s started. You end up being one of those really creative, useless types that hang out at Starbucks all day and make passive aggressive political comments on youtube. Dreams not acted on become regrets.
Then there’s the critic. The critic can be entertaining to outsiders but maddening to the dreamer and the realist. Deep down the critic isn’t evil. It’s the professor of harsh reality. The critic would rather shoot down your big idea than do all the work necessary to make it happen. Every idea is in a fight to the death between the critic and the dreamer with the realist acting as judge.
When an idea get’s put through this ringer, as many times as necessary until it passes all 3, you end up with something much more powerful than an idea. You end up with a plan that you’ll have absolute reasoned confidence in. You’ll be ready for immediate action.
The chances that you’ll actually achieve the thing are now exponentially higher. Now you can not only understand it for yourself but you can explain it to others.
Phase 2: The Scheduler
note: For years I hated scheduling. I’d avoid any meetings or “let’s talk on the phone at X time” requests at all costs. This also meant I never used a calendar. What would I have put on it? I say this only so you don’t read this thinking it was written by some anal scheduler that plans their days down to the minute. I’m the opposite of that. But the realist and the critic insisted on some basic scheduling techniques to allow any of my tests to pass. So here we are.
Tools: I use Basecamp for tracking all of this stuff. The calendar is awesome, the phone app works great, and I’m already using it all the time for work so opening a project for my life was easy. I also use alarms on my iPhone when necessary.
The process of this phase is simple. Make things real by actually deciding exactly when they will be done, and doing them.
The only commitment you have to make is that once it’s on the schedule it happens. This might take some practice but you can build up the habit by automating things and putting them on the schedule. Example, all of my automatic financial withdrawals (for savings, investing, and bill pay) are on my calendar as well. This helps to remind me that they are going to happen, but it also means that there are constantly things scheduled and happening on my calendar without me having to do anything, post setup.
If an idea has made it through the full process of Phase 1, with a plan that all 3 systems were excited about, putting it on the schedule is mostly just a formality. I’m so jazzed about the idea that I can’t stop thinking about it by that point. However, for longer term goals (that span months or years) part of the plan always involves some form of check up and accountability, so that piece goes on the schedule.
I set a goal to lose 106 pounds in 2015 (after losing 26 pounds in 30 days in December 2014). This would get me to my ideal body weight of 184 lbs. What sounded like a totally daunting figure became pretty actionable when it was just 9 lbs per month on average. I already did 26 pounds in a month so my realist and critic weren’t too argumentative. I scheduled all of the weighins to make sure I’m on track and have Plan B and Plan C contingencies for how to handle things if I’m drastically off track.
This allowed me to use time to my advantage on bigger goals. I wanted to save 1 years worth of living expenses, so instead of finding a way to consciously put away $36,000. I played around with 2 variables, amount per month, and time. When I realized that, at my current level, it would take almost exactly 4 years to save that amount I got excited. All I had to do was set it up and forget about it. Any unplanned good financial things happening in the future will get me there even faster. If I raise the monthly savings amount, the time gets shorter. If things change and I need to decrease the monthly savings amount, the time gets longer. But it’s still always happening. And I never have to think about it.
We use the schedule (via Basecamp calendar) so that I don’t ever have to remember anything. If I commit to myself or someone that I’m going to do something, I immediately put it on the calendar. Actually, I’m so severe that I won’t commit until it’s on the calendar. I’ll say, “That sounds like it would work. Give me just a second to add it to my calendar. Pause. OK, it’s added. Yes I can do that. Good?”
If it’s not on my calendar, I’m not committed to doing it. At best I am a “maybe.” But generally, I’m a no.
Every good plan needs a real schedule. At the very least you have to schedule to check up on yourself and report on how you’re doing. The schedule is the piece that, while possibly not that much fun, steers the ship and keeps things on course.
My experience was that when I had plans I was really excited about (because they made it through Phase 1) scheduling and using a calendar wasn’t a chore anymore, it was exciting. It made my dreams that much more real. I now get excited to look at the calendar because it’s a report of all the awesome stuff I’m about to do. My calendar still has tons and tons of free time on it and only things that fit in with my dreams are allowed on the calendar.
No one else, and I mean NO ONE, has any say whatsoever as to what goes on my calendar. Only me. So if there’s ever something on my calendar that I’m not excited about, it means I’m being an idiot.
Phase 3: The Day.
On Phase 3, we get back to the perfect average day exercise. This part cannot be skipped. I repeat,
this part cannot be skipped.
Why can’t this part be skipped?
Because if you do phase 1 and phase 2, the likelihood that you will achieve will be exceptionally high. If you write your plans correctly (meaning with contingencies) than failure is almost impossible. When you miscalculate at the outset you’ll have times where you catch it (check ins) and rewrite the plan to work with the new information you have, or decide that the plan isn’t for you. You’ll be successful. That’s great.
What the perfect average day now does is, in my opinion, magic. It will condition your brain to spot things in your everyday life that validate, inform, and reinforce your dreams. It will cause your brain to notice that you’re achieving what you want in real time.
This is the seasoning that brings the whole dish over the top to level amazing.
Use the writing that you’ve done from Phase 1 as the outline to write your perfect average day. You’re answering the question:
“If there were no limitations or consequences, what would your perfect average day look like?”
Write this like a story. Use expansive language and descriptive words. Be vivid in your writing and build in all of the dreams from Phase 1.
When it’s a long term dream (lose 100 lbs of fat) consider what the 1 day of doing that might look like. What were all the habits you had to install in your plan to make it work. Put those habits in the perfect average day and add in things like, “I enjoy eating (this specific meal) for breakfast as it contributes in an important way to my long term goal of X.”
Add in the feelings that you imagine you will feel. The thoughts that you will think. The little things you’ll notice about the experience of living that way. Add in flavors, sounds, environmental things. Build all of the dreams into a story that fits together. This is where they all become simultaneous, coexisting together.
When you finish the perfect average day, give it to the dreamer and start the process all over again. If the dreamer isn’t agreeing and excited with the piece, make edits until it is. If the realist isn’t giving it the go ahead and telling you you’re right, make edits until it is. If the critic is able to poke holes in your day (you can’t do X and Y) reformat the plan to accommodate.
When you have a perfect average day written out that includes all of your dreams and the entire day passes all 3 systems tests you win.
Phase 4: Installation & Update
Take the finished version of your perfect average day and read it. Read it at least once per day for 6 weeks. Read it until it’s the only thing that makes sense to you. Read it even when it’s boring. Keep reading it.
When something stops sounding right, update it. This is a living document. If you change a lot of it, or cut pieces out, send it back through the dreamer, realist, and critic.
If you do this process once, and spend a whole day or two doing it and get it done, you’ll change your life. If you then spend a month or 6 weeks re-reading the perfect average day to integrate it into your brain, you’ll change your life even more.
If you make this exercise a part of your existence. Where you are regularly reading, editing, upgrading, and improving your content, you’ll be unstoppable.
This is creative living. This is cultivating an awesome life. This done consistently, makes you win the game of life. I re-do this about once per year. It’s the OS update for my brain. But I’ll do small software patches along the way as I find bugs also.
Your first version might suck and look like a mid 90s computer. But it’ll work at least. After it’s done, start working on the next version. Then launch that. Keep iterating off of the data that you bring in.
In the end you want the biggest most thrilling dreams possible, which pass the most rigorous and sophisticated reality checks, and are impervious to even the most ruthless critical scrutiny by intelligent, experienced, haters.
Sound like a lot of work? It fucking is.
How many people do you know that would sit down and take the 10-20 hours needed to get through a rough draft of this? How many do you know that would take the additional 40-60 to do revisions and updates and really fine tune their program? How many that would re-read it every single day to internalize it. And rewrite the whole thing as often as necessary?
The answer is probably very few. That’s the truth. I have plenty of friends that are serious and active in the personal development scene and transformational work. Many that will spend thousands of dollars on a weekend workshop promising a change in their life. I don’t know any of them that would sit and do the long, uncomfortable, but sometimes exciting work of this huge writing exercise.
I know a lot that would start. But they’d stop long before they’re finished and sell themselves short. It’s maybe 1 in 10,000 that would actually do this process all the way through.
The reason? Because it’s actually really hard. It’s not just a lot of writing. It’s a lot of self confrontation. It’s a lot of seeing the ugly parts of ourselves, the things we’re ashamed of or embarrassed about. It’s a lot of bursting our own bubble. It’s awkward. It’s scary. It’s emotionally taxing. And the first draft is always shit.
Really, you should do the first draft and really get it perfect, everything just right. Then set it on fire and forget about it, start from scratch. The good stuff will still be there when you write it again.
Then you write it again, and again.