One of the most difficult things about personal productivity and improvement is knowing where to start.
There are usually a lot of things one wants to improve or do better at. It could be eating better, it could be spending more time with the family, you may want to exercise more or do better at meditation or spiritual practices.
And that is just the personal stuff. It doesn’t even begin to address things you may want to do in order to improve your skills for work. And what about helping others in their journey? Serving in the community?
All of these are good things, but it can be overwhelming. We don’t know where to go, but just want to be going somewhere. The feeling is well represented by a scene where Alice is speaking with the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Yes, you are sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough, but is it where you really want to be? Is it somewhere that you can use the talents and gifts you have been given? Is it really the best place for you?
Too often we are caught in this same rut. We spend all our time looking for advice on where to go, and people are more than willing to tell us where they think we should go, but we never actually choose ourselves. When we were young our parents may have convinced us that we wanted to be a doctor or pushed us to follow in their footsteps and take over the family business or something similar.
Or we may have just wanted to follow our fiends and or other expectations and just gone to college because that was what was expected. Sooner or later we wake up one day and think, “How on earth did I get here? Is this really where I want to be?””
One way to avoid this trap is to engage in an activity that Stephen Covey called “Begin with the End in Mind.” It may be a familiar activity for some people. I know I have seen it in any number of forms over the years, but until recently I didn’t fully realize the power of it.
In “The Four Maps of Happy Successful People”, Robert G. Allen walks through a detailed exercise of gaining clarity in four different areas. Two of them are more strategic and two of them are tactical. In each of the maps, however, you are encouraged to visualize what your ideal life looks like and then you visualize how you are going to feel when you are there.
The four maps, going from strategic and vision, down to more and more tactical are: Clarity, Anticipation, Ritual and Task.
Mr Allen does something unique that I haven’t seen in other approaches, however. He makes you draw your maps. It’s not just a word exercise, but a physical activity you do every day. You draw a sad person in one part of the page and then the happy person in the opposite corner. Then you draw a line connecting the two and, depending on the map, you then visualize and lay out how you want things to go and how you will get from one spot to the other.
When I first began reading the book, I was more interested in the Task and Ritual maps. I wanted to know the ‘brass tacks’ of getting from where I am to where I wanted to be. However, as I have drawn the maps every day for the last few weeks, I have found the part of the exercise I most look forward to are drawing the Clarity and Anticipation maps.
As I become more clear on what I want out of life those two maps energize me and give me the drive to get the other two maps taken care of the rest of the day. I connect with my mission in life and have a better desire to do what I know I need to.
If you have been feeling stuck and have lacked direction, I would suggest you take a look at Robert Allen’s book, “The Four Maps of Happy Successful People”. It’s a great approach to creating a personal mission “map” that you connect with every day. It will be the best $8 you invest in a book.