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Prototyping for Personal Change

Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to designing new thoughts and creating change in your life. It’s hard to start, because it’s hard to know where to start. What do you work on first? What do you change in order to work on it? Which mindset do you try on? What’s the plan?

For too many people, these questions become paralyzing. They can’t figure out where to start, and somewhere in the midst of the confusion and overwhelm, they realize that it’s easier not to start at all. So they don’t. 

We don’t want that for you. You deserve better!

That’s why we’re all about sharing information that is meant to inspire you, get you started, and keep you going. And today, we’re sharing a secret weapon that makes getting started a little bit easier.

It’s called prototyping.

Prototyping power

You’ve probably heard of prototyping in terms of clothing, product, or machine design. In this respect, the company produces an example of an item before mass producing it. Commonly, they’ll actually produce single examples of several different designs (e.g. one dress with a knee-length hem, one with a mid-calf hem, one with a shorter sleeve, and one with a higher neckline).

What is the point of this process? To allow the company to see the prototype in action, test it with their target customers, and decide which version to move forward with. 

At Drawbackwards, we use prototyping to help our clients make smart, well-informed decisions before moving forward with a deep investment. For many of our clients, getting the design, flow, or format wrong could have disastrous consequences for their company, whether to their finances or their reputation. 

This is why, when faced with helping a client design a new product, we often build five or six prototypes of the same product. This allows our clients (and many times, their clients) to try out the different variations and provide rapid feedback on what works and what doesn’t. When we see what resonates with the client and with the end user, we are better equipped to create a final product that meets the company’s standards and achieves their business goals.

Prototyping for personal change

How can this concept of prototyping apply to personal change?

Mt. Everest is Earth’s highest mountain, which has made it a “bucket list” item for many people, especially avid climbers. Let’s say that you have no mountain climbing experience—zero, zilch, nada. But you think you’d really like to set a goal to climb Mt. Everest someday.

You get in terrific shape, find a great guide, and get all the right gear. And you show up at Mt. Everest for your first mountain climb—ever.

To be frank: this is not a good idea. Not because you aren’t “prepared,” necessarily (you bought those special hiking boots, after all), but because you have no idea what it’s like to climb a mountain. You’ve never used that gear before. You’ve never experienced breathing at a higher elevation, or stood at the peak of a mountain and basked in the view. You honestly have no idea if you’ll even like mountain climbing, and you’re starting with the world’s highest mountain?

This goal could use a prototype. Hike another, smaller mountain, just to see if you even like hiking. This gives you a prototype: a trial run. With lower stakes (literally, in this example), you’re able to try something new and make sure it’s something that you enjoy and want to pursue further. Plus, you’ll be able to collect other important data that could inform your next steps toward your goal: what kind of shape you’re in, whether or not you wore the right shoes, if you can handle hiking in cold weather, etc.

When you prototype for personal change or with a personal goal in mind, you’re essentially having a conversation with your idea. It’s a back-and-forth dance that reveals what will work about your idea, what won’t, and what steps you need to take in order to progress.

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Prototypes for getting started

As we mentioned before, prototyping can also be a great way to help you get started on a goal.

For example, I have a friend who is an incredible writer and illustrator, and it’s been his dream to create a graphic novel. The problem is, he sometimes gets discouraged in the quest for perfection and in the process of writing and publishing a book (The drafts! The edits! The proposals! The industry! The submissions! The rejections!) that he never quite gets started.

I’ll tell you what I told him: just try something. Start creating and shipping ideas!

You don’t have to have all the answers before you start. You just have to have an answer— something (or multiple somethings) you can try. 

I encouraged my friend to write a few different versions (prototypes) of just the first chapter of his book. Show them to a few people, get some feedback, and let that guide the direction to take with the chapter and with the book as a whole. 

Prototypes are the ultimate “just try something” solution. A prototype isn’t a finished product—it isn’t supposed to be. It’s just supposed to be the thing that you’re trying, the conversation you’re starting with your idea. It won’t be perfect, but it will get you started. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

Prototyping for happiness

Since Design.org is all about helping you design a happier, more meaningful life through your thoughts, let’s take a quick look at how prototyping for personal change can tie in directly to your happiness.

My coach made a recommendation that I found strange at the time. He told me that the first thing I should do every morning when I wake up should be to smile. Not necessarily to smile at someone, or in the mirror, or anything—just to smile. He said that it would start my day off on a positive note and train my brain to be happy each morning.

Now, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. Why would the act of smiling actually make me happier? Ultimately, however, I decided to treat it like a prototype. I knew I wanted to be happier overall, and this was just something to try. It was harmless, it was easy, and absolutely anyone could do it (even me). So I gave it a shot, knowing that if the prototype didn’t work, I could throw it out and try something new.

(It totally worked, by the way! Try it as your first prototype for happiness, if you like. Smile!)

Prototyping isn’t often used in the realm of self-awareness and personal growth. But the truth is, it’s a low-stakes way to try different things that might create big, meaningful change in your life. 

Because you’ll never get to where you want to go if you don’t get started.

Another place to start? The Design.org assessment. This insightful, free tool can help you put your focus where it needs to be, and can help you place yourself in the Egg framework: our outline for moving your life from a place or hope to a place of meaning.