If I had to choose just a couple of things that I’m truly passionate about—the things I think can change lives and change the world—the concept of “design” would definitely be on that list. It’s partially because design is the basis for my professional life. But it’s also because design principles, the same ones that help my team at work create well-designed products for our clients, can apply to another area that I’m passionate about: self-improvement.
The whole idea around Design.org, in fact, is to help people design their future in a way that helps them “create happy” in their lives. It’s the perfect marriage of design thinking and self-improvement, and already, we’re seeing how concepts like the Egg and the inner dragon are helping people deliberately move toward the happiness they’re looking for. (And if you’re ready to get started on your own “create happy” journey, make sure to take our free assessment ASAP!)
So today, I want to get back to basics with a quick look at exactly how to apply design thinking to your quest to “create happy.” How exactly do you design your future?
How to design your future
When it really comes down to it, designing your future includes just two steps:
- Begin with the end in mind
- Draw backwards to connect the end to the beginning (where you are now)
While it’s a simple list, the steps themselves aren’t exactly simple. At least, they require a good amount of thoughtwork, self-reflection, and both big-picture and detail-oriented thinking.
I’ll give you a brief overview of what each of these steps entails.
Begin with the end in mind
Before you start out on a journey, you need a destination. And if you don’t deliberately choose one, one will be chosen for you. After all, every step you take is taking you somewhere; it’s just a question of whether or not you take control of where that somewhere is.
So start there—with the somewhere you want to have.
This can be focused on a goal you want to achieve (“I want to lose 50 pounds,” “I want to save up a down payment for a house”), or it can focus more on the kind of person you want to be (“I want to be able to donate 5% of my monthly income to charity,” “I want to feel more secure in my marriage”). Whatever your ideal future looks like, that’s the “end” that you’re working toward. You are working toward you future state.
Coming up with “the end” is deceptively simple. It’s not always easy for people to zero in on what they really want for their future selves. Everyone wants to “create happy,” but not everyone has a clear picture of what that happiness looks like. However, it’s crucial to designing your future.
These exercises might help:
Write your obituary (you read that right). What do you want people to remember you for when you die? What do you want to have accomplished? This can help you visualize the future you want.
Ask yourself questions that help you define your values and desired future:
- Who do I look up to?
- What relationships matter to me the most?
- When do I feel most fulfilled?
- What is something I want to achieve, and who would I need to be to achieve it?
- What is repressed that needs to be let out into the wild?
Face your fears
What have you always been afraid to try? Many people use fear to protect themselves from the failure they might face if they try to go after something they really want. Try using your fears to give you some insights into your desires.
You don’t have to stick to these exercises to come up with the “end” you’re working towards. The important thing is that you end up with something that resonates with you and that you feel passionate about.
Draw Backwards to connect the end to the beginning
I used to struggle with punctuality. No matter how many times I recommitted myself to being on time, I always seemed to show up 5-10 minutes late.
So I started working backwards.
If I had to be at a lunch meeting at 11:00, I’d work backwards to plan out the rest of my day:
If I have to be there at 11:00…
- I actually want to get there at 10:50 so I have a good buffer.
- It takes 30 minutes to get there from the office, so I have to leave the office at 10:20.
- I have to check in with the team before I leave, which takes about 20 minutes, so I’ll start that at 10:00.
- I have to double check that proposal before the meeting, so I’ll start that at the office around 9:00….
- …which means I have to leave my house at 8:30…
- …which means I have to wake up at 8:00.
This “backwards” planning was really the only thing that worked for my chronic punctuality problem.
Planning for the future works in much the same way. When you know where you’re trying to go, you can work backwards until you’ve connected the dots from the end to the beginning—from where you want to be in the future, to where you are now.
This gives you confidence that you’re taking deliberate steps in the right direction. You have a focus, you have an end goal, and you have the next action, and the next, and the next, to get you there.
As you’re connecting those dots, it’s normal to run into some roadblocks along the way. These methods can help when you feel stuck.
Prototyping is a design concept that allows you to gather information without incurring too much expense. In terms of self-improvement, it can mean trying small things (or a couple small things) to help you make a well-informed decision without committing too much time and energy in one direction.
If you’re drawing backwards and come to a spot with two possible “next steps,” consider building in a prototype option that allows you to try them both. Or, just choose something to be your “prototype,” with the knowledge that you can make adjustments if necessary.
Use the Egg
The Egg can help guide your thinking as you work backwards to design your future. Since you’re trying to get to Happiness, the last stage of the Egg, you can frame the steps you’re taking within the other stages of the Egg.
For example, let’s say you’ve just come up with some steps that are focused on Action, but you aren’t sure what needs to come before that. The Egg says that the stage before Action is Belief, so your next step should be focused on helping you develop a belief that would help you take that action.
Design.org coaching and assessment
Design.org offers free, personalized coaching services with messages that are tailored to your specific stage in the Egg. Our assessment also helps you create a focus statement, allowing you to zero in on the direction you want to move in.
These tools are designed to help you through this very process of starting with the end in mind, drawing backwards to connect the end to the beginning, and moving through the stages of the Egg.
Taking our assessment and getting started with our free coaching can help you as you work to connect the end to the beginning.
Together, these two steps help you design your future. If you can start with the end in mind, and then draw backwards to connect that “end” to your current “beginning,” you’ll be able to create the happiness you’re looking for.
Quick tips to help you design your future
The two steps above outline the process for designing your future, but your mindset while you design your future is important as well. Here are some quick tips that will help keep your mindset in a healthy, productive place.
Self-awareness allows you to see both your strengths and your flaws without judging yourself. It allows you to (a) acknowledge your weaknesses and potentially make them part of your end goal to overcome them, and (b) leverage your strengths to help you connect the dots back to where you are currently.
Gratitude improves your physical and psychological health, while also increasing your self-esteem and mental strength. All of these can prove beneficial as you work to design your future. Plus, gratitude makes you happier—it just feels good! (Here are some tips for starting a gratitude journal.)
Choose love over fear
Fear is a powerful motivator, but love is more powerful. Set your goals out of love for yourself. Make sure your plans demonstrate love for yourself and for others. Move toward what you want with love, rather than away from what you fear.
Ask for help
Other people love you and want to see you succeed. Let them help you. Even if they aren’t specifically included in your plans, allow them to be your confidants and cheerleaders. We all need connection. Use that need to help you design your future.
Know your why
A powerful purpose will keep you motivated in good times and in bad. What is your purpose? Why do you want to design this particular future? Write down your answer and refer to it often. It will push you forward like nothing else can.
No risk, no reward. If you want a different result, you have to try something different. Designing a new future may require you to take risks. Embrace that opportunity. Open yourself up to the possibility that those risks will open doors that were previously closed.
Give your inner dragon a voice
Your inner dragon wants you to create the future you’ve designed for yourself. Give it a voice as you set your goals and make your plans. Allow your fierce creativity to help shape a new life and a new you. Unleashing this part of yourself will put passion behind your efforts and help you unlock the magic you need to access in order to accomplish those big goals. Your inner dragon is a great teammate when it comes to “creating happy.” But you have to let it play.
Design is a carefully thought-out process. It requires knowing where you’re going, and methodically working to connect it to where you are now. You have to make an action plan that is as practical as it is bold, as “present-oriented” as it is “future-oriented,” and as realistic as it is hopeful. Designing your future is your best bet for actually making that future a reality, reaching new heights, and “creating happy.”
Ready. Set. Design.
Start to design your future (for free!) with Design.org.
Use Design.org’s free, personalized coaching to help you design your future and make it a reality. You’ll be “creating happy” in no time. Start today by taking our assessment.