Your Ideal Day – How To Plan For A Better Life
More than any other activity, exercise, or habit, imagining your ideal day is the most powerful thing I know for clarifying your goals and focussing on the life changes you need to make to reach them.
What do you want from your life? It’s such a vast question that most of us shrink away from it. The self-help books and hustle culture make setting goals look easy. But it isn’t.
Maybe it’s easy to come up with superficial answers. The things your society, or your parents, or your co-workers expect you to say. Or the glossy aspirational version of life we get sold on Instagram and reality TV.
But figuring out what you want, deep down – what will satisfy your soul and help you flourish – takes a bit of work. Especially if you’re thinking about a future you can build for yourself without relying on winning the lottery or making a sudden fortune via crypto-currencies.
The imagine-your-ideal-day exercise is the best thing I’ve tried for thinking about this problem. I’m eternally thankful to Debbie Millman for introducing me to it. So much so, I’ve written about it before here, here, and here. It goes like this.
Doing The Ideal Day Exercise
Find a distraction-free moment. Get your favourite writing tool ready. Imagine yourself in the future, 10 years from now.
Then focus on a single working day, your ideal day. Write about it, filling out the details of what that day would look and feel like.
Go deep with the details. Where do you live? What time do you wake up? What is your morning routine like? Do you commute to work, or do you work from home? How do you dress? What do you eat? How do the rooms you’re in smell like? What do your plates and cutlery look like? Who do you work with? What’s your workplace like? How does it make you feel? What kind of chair do you sit in? How do you relax and unwind? Who is in your social life? Are you planning a holiday soon and where to? What kind of media do you consume? Finally, how does your day end and how do you go to sleep?
Give yourself time and freedom to dream. The more detail the better. Don’t self-edit. Don’t worry what other people might think.
Every time I’ve done this, it runs to several pages. So take your time and enjoy the process.
Now Ask Yourself Some Questions
The next step is to use what you’ve written to ask yourself questions about your current situation. As the first stage is so taxing, you might want to wait a few days before tackling this.
Re-read your notes and start to notice every difference between your ideal day and how you currently live. Make a list of those things. Don’t worry about how big or small they seem. It could be how far you commute or what kind of coffee you drink. It might be what you wear or how kind your co-workers are. It could be the job you do or the friends you have.
Compare, notice, and list.
Now it’s time to look at that list and ask yourself, How do I get there? These will be the changes you need to make in your life. Some of these change might feel daunting. That’s okay. You’ve given yourself 10 years to get there.
The important thing is asking yourself what changes you can start to make now, today, this week, this month, to get you moving towards this ideal day.
And, as you make choices in all aspects of your life, ask yourself, Is this moving me closer to my ideal day?
Your Ideal Day Helps You Set Boundaries
Whenever I do this exercise, what stands out is the number of things I do now that never appear in my ideal day. I’m never imagining myself eating takeout or doing email.
This process of imagining your ideal day shines a light on any uncomfortable compromises or limitations in your current life. There’s nothing wrong with takeout pizza once in a while. Actually, it’s awesome. But when I’m eating a lot of takeout, it’s a sign something is wrong in my life or the way I’m managing my schedule. And if I’m constantly mired in email, then that also points to poorly thought-out ways of working, unhealthy collaborations, or projects that are taking up more time and energy than they should.
What imagining your ideal day also does, of course, is focus your mind on your aspirations. Too often, we’re timid when asking the universe for what we really want from life. For many of us, institutional processes like racism, sexism, or ableism have made us fearful of having our desires and dreams labelled as unreasonable.
The process of imagining your ideal day gives you a safe environment to embrace your desires.
This does helps you set boundaries. You can use your ideal day as a check whenever deciding to say yes or no to something (or someone). Does this thing fit in my ideal day? Is this the kind of person I imagined in my ideal day? Is this something I would do in my ideal day?
How Does This Work?
In an interview, Debbie Millman explained some of the reasons why this exercise works for so many people. It gives you the freedom to imagine the future you want. Also, it helps you feel hopeful and optimistic about designing and creating a better kind of life for yourself.
Part of the reason is because the exercise focusses on your working life. While it’s okay to dream of skiing the back country or relaxing on a beach in Tahiti, that’s probably not going to be what you do for 200 days a year.
The purpose of life is work and love. The ideal day exercise encourages you to think deeply about the flow, shape, and texture of your work and the place of love and human connections in your life.
Also, the exercise helps you make the changes you need to make it tangible. Any big project needs to be broken down into many steps and gets finished by working through many decisions. And there’s no bigger project than shaping your life. So, having some framework for the many yeses and no’s you’ll face is liberating.
The Answer Is Design, Not Addition
It’s easy to believe the answer to making our lives better is more – more money, more time, more things. That isn’t always true. Sometimes greater freedom comes from removing things from your life as well.
What this exercise does is focus our attention on designing our life, rather than buying more stuff. Once you get a clear picture of the life you’d like to live, you can start every day to make the choices that will get you closer to where you dream of being.
The freedom comes from really understanding your desires.