At MIT, we teach a course called Designing Your Life, which is a pretty broad topic, but we break it down to the 18 major areas of life: relationships, family, body, health, career, money, fun, love, romance, sex, etc. Now I feel the need to break it down even further because of what happened for me on Mother’s Day.
Most of us don’t design how life goes, but instead report on what is happening or happened TO us. And it leaves the power out of our hands. We want the power back in your hands. But even if you recognize you have a lot more say in how things go than you thought, do you realize you can really design anything?
You probably see you have control over what you eat, how you talk to people, how you dress. But there are two very obvious scenarios in which conscious people still ARE NOT designing: areas where you take success for granted and situations that plain old suck. Let me explain.
Areas in which you take success for granted or you are relying on someone else to ensure success.
Some good examples might include how romantic your last date was (whether you are married or not) or your experience of balancing your checkbook. Sometimes we are just so frustrated (read: bratty?) that we don’t think we should have to design in these areas. The attitude is it should just work out or that it’s up to someone else.
My most recent example was Mother’s Day. I bet you often regret not designing your holidays well. I’ve gotten it wrong so many times.
This year I finally did it right. I remembered how last year I felt totally conflicted. Half of me wanted to show my kids a great day (BE a great mom) and the other half of me wanted a day off (vacation from being a great mom). I didn’t design either– so I ended up in between, which made NO ONE happy. Because I wasn’t entirely “on” or “off,” I neither relaxed nor showed up as a great or attentive mom. OOOOPS.
This year I promised my husband the night before that I would say (design) how Mother’s Day was going to go and then act accordingly. I planned Sunday dinner with the whole family (and my own mom – BONUS!) and for the rest of the day got myself off the hook for mommy duty. Whereas I am normally inclined to work during my time off from kids, I resisted. I consciously chose to let my “to do” list wait, and purposely relaxed. Maybe that seems simple to you, but it was a revolution to me. Normally, my law is, I can relax when everything is finished. I actually ended up being really present and happy when I was “off” and when I was “on.” And I was super proud of myself for having said how it would go and for following through.
Situations that SUCK
Sure, designing a birthday party or any other day when you’re celebrated (like Mother’s Day) can be fun, but what about designing your father’s hospice experience or your daughter’s suspension from school? It’s easy to be a designer when the situation is normal or even festive, not so much if the situation involves emotions or fears. This is when it’s most important to design and where you’ll be most rewarded for being one of the few who can and does.
Here are the simple (but often elusive) steps to remember:
1) Wake up! Get your bearings, survey the “scene” and decide: it’s time to design. (This is for any time you are grumbling.)
2) Think about what you don’t want. Heck, it’s just easier.
3) Force yourself to figure out that what you don’t want implies what you DO want. Now write down what you do want.
4) Tell excuses to shut up; you are in charge.
5) Design a plan and/or promises that go with your intention (your list of DO wants).
6) Tell as many people as possible.
My example is that I have a very dear friend whose mother is going through cancer treatment. She used the tools above to design this tough situation.
Here’s what she doesn’t want:
• To be consumed by fear and sadness and miss critical chances to connect and give and receive love from her mother and other family members
Here’s what she does want:
• To show up
• To provide love and leadership for the whole family
• To be there
She has to remind herself all the time not to become a victim of what is a very sad and trying experience. She has promises to be in communication with various members of the family at various times, to take care of herself in certain ways and to have all the conversations she needs to have with her mom. Her community has come to expect, and support her with, these promises, because heck, it’s inspiring!
This system becomes a lifeline even in the hardest circumstances. Please use this list and apply it to any situations in your life where you are less than happy. Then, let me know how it works for you by sharing on my blog!
P.S. – If you’re ready, come design your roadmap for life at our Design Your Life Weekend. June 4 and 5 is the last one in NYC until the fall. Don’t miss out!