I’m proud of the life I’ve designed for myself. “Designed” might seem a bit too moulded (how much can we really control?) but I think it’s the right word.
This piece is about how I’ve created the best framework for my life, creativity, and wellbeing by making the right choices available to me. It’s about doing what we can to design and manufacture our perfect day and letting the universe take care of the rest.
- Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life – Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
- The ONE Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results – Gary Keller
- Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future – Ayse Birsel
- Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan David
- Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be – Marshall Goldsmith
- The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life – Bernard Roth
“Designers don’t agonize. They don’t dream about what could have been. They don’t spin their wheels. And they don’t waste their futures by hoping for a better past. Life designers see the adventure in whatever life they are currently building and living into. This is how you choose happiness.” – Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
I moved to the mountains
All hail the freedom of being unmarried, childless, and having a Swiss work permit. I know this isn’t something that everyone can do, but what’s your version? What can you do?
I have time and space to sit and read, think, and write. I have plants I like, tea I enjoy brewing, and a few favourite books.
I pay more rent than I perhaps should, but I maintain that it’s a good deal. Having my ideal living space adds so much to my base levels of calm and happiness.
“Mountains, according to the angle of view, the season, the time of day, the beholder’s frame of mind, or any one thing, can effectively change their appearance. Thus, it is essential to recognize that we can never know more than one side, one small aspect of a mountain.” ― A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
I changed my approach to habits
Next up: habits. I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, but it didn’t do much for me. I didn’t like how everyone had to be a certain Type with a Capital Letter. I decided to take habits into my own hands instead and I’ve done alright.
What I’ve found for me is that everything has to slot together. If I just want to build a habit of spending half an hour on Duolingo every day, it doesn’t happen. But if I slot it in after a habit I’ve already formed, it does.
For me, a “first comes X, then Y and Z” approach works for building habits. For a maximum for 3 tasks slotted together as a group. For instance, in the morning I get up (1), brush my teeth (2), and then turn on my laptop to settle down for some writing time (3).
|The view from my dining room table of the Swiss Alps is better entertainment than any television.|
I designed my day with happiness-bringing habits
The habit that adds the most to my happiness is something that I knew was important since I was sixteen. Waking up between five and six o’clock in the morning to do my most important work: creative, thoughtful work that has nothing to do with my 9 to 5.
One of the main incentives to get back into my early rising – and using the time to get back into writing – was reading The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I’d heard about the book three or four years ago and dismissed it a bit as same-old personal development, but it really is good. One of the top books I’ve read in 2016, in fact.
“Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results”. – The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Now that I’m almost done consolidating my morning writing habit, I’m thinking about what habit is up next. Meditation, perhaps? I know that’s also good for me. It’s just so easy to let it slip without having a habit in place.
I let myself be me (even in unsociable quantities)
“Faking it never works. If you don’t believe me, read Richard Wright. Read Charlotte Brontë. Read Joy Harjo. Read Toni Morrison. Read William Trevor. Read the entire Western canon.” – Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Another way I’m designing a happy life is to just be me. It goes without saying that I’m not a huge fan of socialising. I cherish my alone time. And sometimes I can come across as a bit rude. But as long as I’m happy, I cultivate my important relationships, and I approach life kindheartedly, I think it’s ok.
One of my main guiding pillars is to create useful things and share what I know. I know this gives my day-to-day most meaning, rather than trying to be someone I’m not to please people who aren’t close to me.
I put my creative work where it belongs
The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” ― Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
It is first thing in the morning when I do the work that makes me feel happiest and most useful. There’s little that makes me more unsatisfied than focusing solely on my job: waking up, going to work, working my ass off, coming home, and going to sleep. Especially when I feel that my work isn’t always valued fully.
I’ve found that for me, it’s crucial that I put my creativity and writing ahead of my job and give it the time and attention it deserves. I tried writing in the evenings, but I don’t have the time or energy. But now, with my early rising habit, by the time I leave for my “proper job” at 8 am I feel like I’ve had a productive day already. My “own work” is done, and my best energy supplies have contributed to something I can really feel proud of. That makes me feel incredibly happy and leads to truly brilliant days.
Find out when your willpower and commitments are most conducive to working on your projects. For you, it might be working in the evenings or during your lunch break. And protect that time with steel reinforcements. Guard it with your life. Otherwise the rest – that other stuff outside your control – becomes your life.
What would your perfect day look like?
To help you with your own life design projects and ongoing tweaks, the Myers Ideal Day exercise is also a useful tool to set aside an hour to do. It asks questions such as:
- If your life could be anything you wanted it to be, what would it be right now? (Where would you live? Who would your friends be?)
- How would you spend your time, if you could do anything you wanted?
- Would you work? If so, what would you do? If not, what would you do?
- What do you want to learn? To know? To be? What else would be a part of your perfect life?
- In my perfect day, when would I wake up? Where? What would I do in the first hour after waking?
- What would my perfect evening look like? When would I fall asleep? How long would I spend winding down and how would I do it?
- In my ideal day, what creative work would I do every day without fail? What else would be non-negotiable?
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