When it comes to building the life you want to live, most people try to design it backwards.
Most people begin with what habits and routines they want to have each day, as opposed to what habits and routines they would need to start doing to get them where they want to be in five, 10 or 15 years down the line.
This is something called reverse engineering: you have to understand what you want the final product to be before you’re going to be able to set all the parts in place to make it happen.
In the same way that companies or schools need to write mission statements, so do you. You need to understand what you want the big, overarching points of your life to be. Otherwise, you’ll never really know what you’re working toward.
Your mission statement is different from your goals. Your goals are specific, time-particular, measurable accomplishments that you want to achieve by a certain point. They are more rigid, and generally work as as sort of ladder: your goals should be incremental, and one should bring you to the next, and then to the next.
Your mission, however, should be what’s at the top of that ladder. Your mission is not necessarily super particular, rather, it can be more fluid, more general, and more descriptive of how you want to feel, not necessarily exactly what you want to do.
Here’s an example:
I am completely at peace each day. I work two or three days a week consulting in a field that I am passionate about. I have more money than I need, I invest and save wisely, and I keep my living expenses low. I have healthy, loving relationships with my friends and family, I take care of my body and mind each day, and I am confident that I am leaving a positive impact on the world around me, in everything from my daily interactions to the work that I am most proud of.
Write that down on a piece of paper, post it beside your computer, fold it up and put it in your wallet, and keep it with you at all times.
Your personal mission can help you in the following ways:
1. You can make better, more aligned decisions.
Let’s say you’re trying to decide between taking a promotion, or starting your own business. Or you’re trying to decide whether you should buy a house where you are, or move across the country. Or on an even smaller scale, you’re trying to figure out how to cope with your frustrating relative. When you know what your long-term mission is, you can make these decisions from that perspective. This will help you keep your life on track long-term.
2. You are writing a blueprint for your brain to adopt.
When you can clearly visualize what your end-goal is, you are giving your brain a sort of blueprint or map of what you want and need it to do.
Remember that so much of your life is habitual: so many of the things you do repeatedly, the things you crave, the things you feel comfortable with are simply things you’ve conditioned yourself to prefer, or feel safe doing. You can rewrite these impulses by engaging in new habits and behaviors over time, even though they might feel uncomfortable in the beginning.
3. You create your own certainty.
More than anything, your personal mission gives you a sense of certainty and stability in a largely chaotic and unpredictable world. It reminds you of what you want to do, who you want to be, and where your priorities need to rest, when it often seems like everyone is trying to pull your attention in every direction.
These are the questions you want to ask yourself to build your own mission:
- What is it that you want to feel each day?
- What do you want to be most proud of by your life’s end?
- What work do you want to do each day?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- How do you want to impact others?
- What way in which do you want to live? (Simply, luxuriously?)
- Where do you want to spend your days?
- What do you want your relationships to be like?
- What do you want your bank account to look like?
- What do you want your closet to look like?
- What do you want your home to look like?
And you can just keep riffing from there.
Remember that, first, your mission can be unrealistic for where you are at right now, because you’re going to need to be unrealistic to change your reality. Second, don’t expect everything to change instantly. Your life is going to be a gradual, constant unfolding. Third, remember that your mission can change as you do. You are allowed to grow, you are allowed to choose again, you are not beholden to anything you once thought you wanted.
Be free enough to decide who you are and what you really want.