Vision Part 3: Into Action - Next Action Associates
Lego rockets at NASA's Kennedy Space Center

Lego rockets at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

If you’ve been following this short series on vision, you now know why you might want to have one and about one of the big things that will get in the way of creating a vision that will stretch you into your potential. Perhaps you are convinced that articulating a vision would be a  good thing, but you don’t really know how to go about doing it. Well, this blog’s for you. Not a recipe, but hopefully an insight into how you might go about getting your own vision in place.

If you are creating a vision for your life for the first time, this can be a pretty challenging process. Make no mistake, starting to sketch on the pristine blank canvas that is the rest of your life is not for the faint-hearted. So many possibilities! What if you make the wrong choices? Part of the reason that I think we avoid this is that there are no ‘right’ answers in the domain of vision, only preferences. It takes courage to express those, independent of current reality. Many avoid this process because of this uncertainty — the act of creating something new is a lot less certain than simply refining what already exists.

Given the lack of reference points in envisioning the future, I have found it very helpful to give myself a lot of structure around what is a fundamentally unstructured activity. Without it, that blank canvas/blinking cursor can simply be too much for me.

Having tried – and failed, repeatedly – to do this in a home environment, I realized that I needed to find a place that lent itself to undistracted work. In theory a hotel or library would do the trick, but I knew myself well enough to know that the mix of no distraction and no structure would not be a good one for me, so I kept looking.

In the end, my choice was to head off to a local monastery for a few days to live and work in the rhythm of the monastic life. The spiritual nature and the beauty of the location were conducive to visionary thinking, but more than anything it was the fact that they met up as a community 10 times per day that was helpful to me. That gave a structure and an urgency to each 30m/1hour/2hour block of work between meetings that would never have been as productive if I’d simply had a whole day at my disposal.

That structure was very helpful, but what to do with those blocks of time? Well, I found it easier to get going by breaking the big task down into much smaller chunks: I looked at the roles that I play in my life (in GTD parlance, the Areas of Focus and Responsibility that I currently have and/or wanted to have in my vision), and simply asked myself, “What do you want to be true in 5 years in this domain?” What do you want to be true about your health? As an entrepreneur? As a partner? In the material side of my life? As a contribution to my communities? As an artist/creative being? For me there were about 14 of these areas, and I found that writing about what I wanted in each of them was much easier than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.

As expressed in an earlier blog on writing, I needed to allow myself to get a very bad draft out onto the page before worrying about how it might look in the end. How you do this is not important, but some of the ways that people have used to get more visionary include to stop writing and start drawing, or to move to a different medium altogether, like Lego or plasticine. Friends have done the exercise with a stack of magazines, some scissors and a bottle of glue. There are limits (I have my doubts about a draft of a vision for your life expressed in interpretive dance for instance…), but pretty much anything that gets a good draft out could work.

However you do it, you’ll definitely want to stifle the question about how you are going to realize the vision as you are thinking big about the future. It is a great question, but not useful at this stage. For now, just keep noting what you want, and try to ignore any, “Yes, but’s”, that show up to try to make your vision smaller.

The idea of vision is inherent in the name. however you get to the initial draft, a litmus test of your vision will be whether you can actually see it. Or perhaps better expressed, see yourself in it. What does it smell like, look like, feel like? Walk through it in your mind. This might feel uncomfortable, and it probably should; if you’ve created a big vision for yourself you’ll probably have no idea how to achieve it, and much of what you have written down will be outside your current comfort zone. That’s okay. By admitting to yourself what you want and making it concrete in some fashion you have set some very powerful forces in motion. There is more to do to make it a reality, but this first step is a big one on that road.

If you aren’t yet at the point of clarity, then make that your first goal. It’s a big waste of time to go through life being unclear about what you want. Most people wallow way too long in the state of “I don’t know what to do.” They wait for some external force to provide them with clarity, never realizing that clarity is self-created. The universe is waiting on you, not the other way around, and it’s going to keep waiting until you finally make up your mind. Waiting for clarity is like being a sculptor staring at a piece of marble, waiting for the statue within to cast off the unneeded pieces. Do not wait for clarity to spontaneously materialize-grab a chisel and get busy!

-Steve Pavlina
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