Research-Backed Principals to Design a Purpose-Filled Life Strategy
Every time you set a goal, plan your schedule, or organize your to-do list, you are working in a greater context: your life strategy. Most of us persist in goal-setting and building new habits without stepping back to perceive the bigger picture. We find ourselves frustrated and at our wits end trying to balance different projects and life roles. (This is why it took me years to set goals with confidence.)
Whether or not you are aware of it, you are following your life strategy every day. The question is, have you dedicated the time to articulate your life strategy?
This guide is here to outline the fundamentals to create a life strategy. It illustrates how time-tested organizational strategy principles are best applied to manage your greatest asset: your multi-passionate, creative self. Use the links below to jump directly to each section, or scroll at the way through (take your time).
1. What is a Life Strategy?
- Life Strategy, Defined
- Essential Elements
- The Contribution Question
- Sample Mission Statements
- Identifying Your Values
- Operationalizing Your Values
- Achievable Goals
- Measurable Goals
1. What is a Life Strategy?
Imagine what might happen if you were to run your life like the important business it is.
If you’re ambitious, creative and live a life filled with multiple passions and pursuits, chances are you juggle a lot on your plate. Like different organizational departments, you play different life roles – from employee and freelancer to sister and life-long learner.
Whatever your passions, living out multiple roles is one of the greatest challenges and rewards of the creative life.
Like a business, each of us has limited resources. It is your responsibility to maximize how you use these finite resources – your precious time, energy, talent – for the greatest impact across your different life roles.
Maybe you feel like you’ll never find enough time or energy to ever complete all the projects you envision. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the mounting backlog of creative ideas spinning around in your mind, wondering if any of these bright ideas will ever have the chance to shine.
Life Strategy, Defined
You would never lead a business without the essentials: a mission, a vision, core values. Why not adopt time-tested strategies to design your life?
I’m talking full-on profesh self-management. A life strategy is a plan that organizes all the different areas of your life – with concrete goals to bring your intentions to life.
Organizations have field-tested planning strategies for decades, incorporating principles from productivity, performance and motivational psychology to achieve world-changing goals: from the seemingly impossible creation of the personal computer to non-invasive robotic survey to the humble GPS, making car meltdowns in the middle of nowhere a thing of the past.
If it can guide a business with thousands of employees, a life strategy can probably help manage your life goals.
These field-tested tools are absolute basics in organizational planning strategies. Yet we are rarely taught how to apply them to our personal lives.
I personally spent a good five years consulting organizations until the light bulb blew-up in my brain… Maybe I could stop running in circles by applying strategic principles to my life?
After nearly a decade of organizational consulting and dozens of books from luminaries in personal development, I believe that each of us is endowed with dreams and passions for a sacred reason: we are called to impact the world around us.
Most of us have a deep inner desire to contribute more… but lack the tools to design our life in an organized approach.
As someone who darts from one project to the next by nature, having these foundational tools in place has helped me approach my many life roles with a unified overarching sense of purpose, and prioritize the projects that are most meaningful to me.
The foundation for a robust life strategy is comprised of three essential elements:
- A compelling mission
- Core values
- Measureable goals
Applied from the business world to an individual level by Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a quick purview of personal development literature illustrates the power of articulating a personal mission, similar to an organizational mission.
Leading personal development coaches like Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard recommend this personal strategic plan as an organizational method to amp-up our internal motivation and improve our ability to focus on our top priority goals.
Your mission, values and goals are top-of-mind tools to navigate uncharted territory and achieve meaningful milestones.
Imagine the clarity of purpose you would have if, at any given moment, you could succinctly describe your life’s mission. A mission statement enables you to adapt and respond to changes swirling about all around you. Like a compass, a mission statement keeps you focused on what matters most for better decision-making.
An effective mission statement clearly articulates not only your future vision, but also a future contribution to others.
Everyone has a unique set of skills, character traits, and experiences to contribute to the world and make a difference. There is a unique mission within each of us.
Whether or not you’ve already articulated your mission, you’re operating from some kind of mission. The question is: it is your mission, or it is the mission society tells you to have?
When you wake-up in the morning with your mission statement top-of-mind, you have a compass for where you’re going. In the face of uncertainty, scheduling shifts, demands, stumbles and obstacles, your mission can guide you through the unknown.
The Contribution Question
Distilled into one sentence, the heart of your mission statement answers an essential question:
Where does your greatest joy meet the world’s deepest need?
Your mission will change. It is designed as a living document, to be updated and to evolve right alongside you.
The next time you make a new acquaintance and they ask you that boxed-in question what do you do,’ you’ll be armed and ready with an inspiring, compelling mission statement.
Sample Mission Statements
Here are some examples of effective, uplifting mission statements from internationally recognized leaders and organizations:
- “To make people happy” –Walt Disney
- “Organize the world’s information.” – Google
- “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.” – Habitat for Humanity
- “Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.” – National Wildlife Foundation
- “I want to serve the people. And I want every girl, every child to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai
These powerful mission statements are bold and inspiring. They articulate a BHAG: Big, hairy audacious goal. They have the power to inspire persistence and grit, and encourage us to jump out of bed in the morning.
If a mission statement is your compass to uncharted territory, core values are your north star. A mission statement connects you with your future goals, whereas your values connect you with the core of who you are and how you show-up in the world.
Values are abstract ideals of precious, sacred worth, as the word ‘value’ describes. Values point to our best selves.
Identifying your Values
If you were asked to limit your values down to two core values, could you do it?
Values are such wonderful ideals that it’s common to esteem dozens and dozens of uplifting, inspiring values.
The problem with having too many values is that it’s difficult to keep them all in focus. In moments of chaos, frustration and challenge, you will always remember your two core values to discern the right path forward.
Effective life strategy plans identify two core values. By limiting your core values, you can pour more energy into realizing those values through your actions.
Operationalizing your Values
Most of us have an idea of what our values are, but when it comes to ’operationalizing’ our values, or living them out on a daily basis, it is easy to feel like we are falling short.
Unless you bring your values to life on a daily basis, they are little more than words floating around in your head.
The most effective organizations don’t stop after painting their values on the wall. They ‘operationalize’ their values. This means that their collective values are reflected in concrete actions. For example, a local childcare center might measure the value of compassion by how often mothers give positive feedback.
No matter what happens, every day affords us an opportunity to bring our core values to life.
The easiest way to operationalize your values is to reflect briefly on your two core values every day. It may seem simple, but putting your values into action is shockingly uncommon.
Depending on the value, you may even be able to set daily or weekly goals based on your core values, like demonstrating courage by speaking out in difficult meetings or showing compassion by reaching out to a friend.
How do you translate your mission and values into action? Goals. Your mission and values capture your deepest sense of purpose – goals translate purpose into clear action steps.
If you’ve been frustrated by traditional goal setting in the past, you are not alone. Most fitness goal-getters who set 2019 New Year’s resolutions, the most popular time to set goals, give-up within the first three weeks. (In the past I have been known to abandon goals within the same day, so no judgment here…)
Above all else, there are two keys to setting good goals: make them achievable and measurable.
The most acheivable goals land squarely in the goldilocks zone: not too challenging, not too easy.
A lot of gurus out there promote setting big, bold stretch goals. What’s the draw back from the big, scary goal approach? Goals that are too big tend to be overwhelming.
It’s hard to make progress on a goal when you’re constantly questioning if its even possible.
Research shows that In his book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, Steven Kotler describes the average sweet spot as 4% beyond the skills we already have. That’s right, you read that correctly: 4%. When I first read that research, my jaw almost dropped to the flow. I was used to pushing myself way harder.
Challenge yourself with goals 4% beyond your current abilities as an achievable rule of thumb.
Goals are like the milestones on a journey. Reaching a goal sends a signal to us that we are on track. Or, if attaining a goal is a struggle, we have a warning system. It may be time to redirect to another route.
Without measuring your goals, how can you monitor your progress? I’m so glad you asked.
It may take more time to write out a goal and set-up a measuring system, but in the long-term remembering your goals is a massive time-saver.
There are dozens of approaches to measure your goals… because every goal you set requires its own measurement! Some goals are measured with a simple ‘complete’ – ‘stuck’ – ‘incomplete.’ Other goals can be measured with more precise percentages towards completion.
For example, if you set a goal to journal for 30 minutes every week, you could measure how often you followed-through on this goal. Journaling for two out of four weeks would give you a completion rate of 50% (two divided by four).
Ensure that you are on-track to learn from every goal you set by consistently reviewing your progress. Daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly (every 90 days, or season) are ideal tracking timeframes. Tracking routines depend on the scope and frequency of your goal. You get to choose what timeframe works best for your lifestyle.
Best practice is to have a measure in-place for each of your goals. I like to use an old-fashioned ‘thermometer’ style, where I fill-in progress little-by-little on a big goal. Even if it’s a guesstimate of goal completion, watching progress accumulate builds momentum and motivation.
Read more on these related posts: