“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”Vladamir Lenin
A year ago I felt that I didn’t have concrete objectives in my life. I was going through the motions like a zombie, trying to succeed on the typical path — working at a reputable company and making a fat paycheck. I felt like I was in the ocean and the current was carrying me somewhere, but I didn’t know where. If this at all seems like you, I have a technique to share, that will help you recalibrate your life as it did for me.
In software engineering, there is a term that is used when a bug is discovered in the code: fix-forward. What this means is that the highest priority is the experience of the future users, rather than reconciling the mistakes of the past. The only way to do this is to ensure that the discovered bug is rectified as soon as possible. There is no time to dwell on the severity of the bug, how many people were affected, or whose fault it was. The Coronavirus is similar to a software bug: it was unexpected by most, the cause is unclear, and producing a solution holds the ultimate priority right now.
The fix-forward approach applies not only to the doctors looking for a cure or the governments scrambling to determine the best methods to employ, but also to the individual, whose life has just been turned upside down.
I think the fix-forward approach can be implemented for our own lives. Instead of harboring the feelings of sadness or anger targeted at where we think the blame should go, we take a step back with a completely logical approach, to consider all the factors at play, and implement a pragmatic approach to recalibrating instead.
Dreamlining is a strategy where you spend one to two hours sitting down and defining goals on a 3-6 month timeline
The technique I use to recalibrate was inspired by the one that Tim Ferriss uses when he realizes that somehow the direction of his life has moved off course. In his book, The Four Hour Work Week, Ferriss calls his method “dreamlining”. Dreamlining is a strategy where you spend one to two hours sitting down and defining goals on a 3-6 month timeline. The outcome of this exercise is a completely refreshed worldview. One of the main reasons why people feel hopeless or depressed is the lack of direction, and there is nothing more fulfilling than streaming to achieve the goals that you have set. In fact, if you’re still reading, I think you should get a piece of paper and follow along right now.
The method I use for dreamlining is slightly different from the one Tim Ferriss uses but it approaches it in roughly the same way:
Step 1: Defining goals (1-2 hours)
This, for me, was the greatest challenge. To define your own goals, which aren’t related to your job or your degree, is extremely difficult at first. This part will also likely take the most time.
Take your paper, and start writing down the left side different goals that you can come up with. Don’t stop to judge, don’t try to convince the paper anything, and don’t exclude anything that seems impossible. If you want to buy a ferrari, do a kickflip, or learn to code, put it down. The looser you are when you write them down, the easier it will be.
Stop reading and do this now.
If you find yourself in a rut, a technique Ferriss uses to spark ideas that I find quite effective is to think of what you absolutely wouldn’t want to be doing in a year, and then try to come up with the exact opposite of that thing. For me this is to be living in my current San Jose apartment, and the goal that I come up with is to live in San Francisco. Aim for 20 goals, no matter how dumb they are.
Step 2: Prioritize (15 minutes)
The next step is to look at the goals you have written down and pick the 3 or 4 most important ones. The ones which mean the most to you. A strategy I use here is the process of elimination. The goal is to have written down enough ideas where it is easy to eliminate the first 50%, and really challenging to eliminate ideas from the last 6-8. Put stars next to the ideas you pick.
Step 3: Plan (30 minutes)
Now that you have your 3 or 4 ideas, it’s time to develop a plan to get there. For each starred idea, designate a section of the page where you can write the next steps. Start by writing about what you can do right now. In my example of wanting to live in San Francisco, this was going on Zillow and reaching out to a few affordable places and schedule a time to go see them. Ferriss also recommends making plans for tomorrow and the next day to make sure you stay on track, and accountable. I find that this doesn’t apply for all goals, and I chose to substitute it with a weekly task, which for me is to see one place per week.
Step 4: Act
Once you’ve come up with plans for all of your starred ideas, the hard part is over. You now have a concrete objective and exact, step by step instructions for how to get there. You’ve found your island. All that’s left to do is to swim.
The reality of the world now is that information is changing on a weekly basis so there’s not much we can do about the plans that we had. However, this does not mean that we should just sit back while events transpire around us, nor should we proceed with our lives like normal. The world will recover, and the best thing you can do during our quarantine is to try to recalibrate based on the information you have now.
While we’re in for an incredibly difficult and challenging period, not all hope is lost, and this is not the end of the world. In a year from now you’ll be at Sunday brunch ordering a “Quarantini” and reflect on how humanity came together to stomp this disease out. But for now, we can find solace in the paths that we create to keep our vision clear and our quarantine bearable.
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