Imagine Your Life Ten Years From Now

Driving home from a trip last week, I listened to a podcast where author Tim Ferriss interviewed Debbie Millman on the topic "How to Design Your Life." Millman is a designer whose career followed a rather unpredictable path. Today she designs logos and packaging for many multi-billion dollar companies, and is responsible for about a quarter of the packaging you see in your local grocery store.

During the interview, Millman explained an activity she used to have her design students do at the American Institute of Graphic Arts. She asked them to imagine what their lives would be like in ten years. Ten years is a long time. It is long enough for a student to finish their degree, find a job, decide that the job is a poor fit, and then find something else. Or it is long enough to really flourish in one career path. The activity was an invitation for Millman's students to dream big, but to be explicit about those dreams.

What stuck with me was the way Millman's students responded to this activity. She began to get e-mails and phone class from previous students who had done done the assignment ten years earlier. They shared their stories of how their dreams, which had been written down and clarified, had served as a sort of North star for their lives. The activity helped them adopt the mindset of a person who would accomplish their dreams, which they went on to do.

I thought about this for the rest of my drive home. Here was my question: "How can my belief change my future?" It sounded too mysterious to be believable. But clearly there was something that I was missing. I took seriously the idea that I could imagine my life ten years from now, and how this might possibly change my behavior in the interim. Here is what I came up with:

Say I wanted to become a best-selling author. If I don't believe that it's possible, then how could I achieve it? I will always be thinking at the back of my mind, "this will never work." When I am struggling to get the wording just right or when I am disappointed by an editorial review, I am going to see it as evidence that I will never sell 50,000 copies of a book. 

In other words, it isn't the belief that changes everything. The belief means that I spend a little bit more time working on my craft. It means that I write with a little more confidence, and I introduce myself to editors and publishers and consumers as a person who knows what he is doing. I will do daily writing exercises, because that is what bestselling authors do. And so on. Do you see how the belief leads to hundreds and hundreds of tiny behavioral changes, which, when added together, result in a substantial change in life achievement?

That is what I want for you. So, Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Ferriss, being the deeply curious interviewer he is, asked Millman to explain the parameters she used for this activity. "Do you have a page length? Are there any guiding questions? Are they supposed to write creatively or logically?" And so on. (I was grateful that he asked these questions, of course, because I was trying to figure out how to use this activity for my own students.)

Millman kept the parameters pretty open-ended, but explained that it is one of those things where the more you put into it, the more you will eventually get out of it. So here are my parameters for you:

Activity: Imagine That it is Exactly 10 Years From Now. What Does Your Life Look Like?

What are you doing? Where are you living? Who are you living with? What does your schedule look like? How do others interact with you? What are you wearing? Do you have a title? What is your job? Do you enjoy it? What do you enjoy about it? How much money do you make, and how do you spend that money? How do you spend your free time? What sorts of vacations do you take? What do you drive?

When you're writing, don't say "I hope to be living in a four-bedroom...", say "I am living in a four-bedroom."

Be as specific as possible. Be optimistic. Dream big. The more detailed you are, the better. Describe the bed you wake up in and who you are next to (if anybody). What does your bedroom look like? What city are you in? And so on.

Write it out, and then save it. Read it every so often. Believe that it will happen.