The 12 Week Year: Figuring out your Life Vision

I read The 12 Week Year during lockdown this year, and my life has dramatically changed as a result. I’ve read handfuls of goal-setting and time-management books over the years, and found much to like about them, but I cannot shut up about The 12 Week Year. Anyone who I can get to listen to me will hear about this book because, finally, I now know what I want out of life and how to create a plan to get it.

I’ve seen this book around for a few years, but the title, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months, led me to believe it was more of a business-y/efficiency/time management manual, and I’m a mother of four–I have figured out how to eke as much as I can out of my days already, thankyouverymuch. Pass.

But then I saw a random review of it online and the reviewer said it helped them define what they wanted out of life and helped them figure out a plan to actually work on the things that would get them there. And that “helped them define what they wanted out of life” line…I wanted that. So I borrowed it via e-loan from my library (because quarantine!) and…it just spoke to me, especially chapters 3 (The Emotional Connection) and 13 (Establish Your Vision).

I’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and I know about “beginning with the end in mind” and prioritizing the important tasks and mission statements. I’ve also read Getting Things Done and written down my random “5 Years from Now” and “Someday” goals/ideas.

But never had I ever sat down and brainstormed about what I want out of life or what a great life would look like for me. Which is such a simple exercise that I feel like an absolute moron for not ever making the connection to do it on my own. What would a great life look like to me? If I could have everything I was interested in, and everything went right and I did have it, what would that look like?

I had plenty of ideas of what other people had told me a great life entailed; some things I thought were good and some things I would never be interested in in a million years, but I didn’t know what my personal core-of-my-heart desires were, and if you don’t know what you actually want out of life, it’s pretty stinking hard to make a plan to live your best life…because you have no idea what that is.

I just lent my copy of The 12 Week Year to a friend, promising her that it will totally help her figure out her life vision. Only problem is, as I was reading through it while walking over to her house, I realized that the book doesn’t actually spell out the whole “figure out your life vision” exercise…and that maybe I had actually put a lot more effort into that part because I wanted to desperately figure it out for once and for all, so I figured I’d write a post to explain my process before my friends think I’m talking crazy about how this book is going to help you figure out your life direction and then not being to figure out how I came to that conclusion.

So, here it is, my Thanksgiving gift to you:

How To Figure Out What YOU Want Out of Life

Materials Needed:
*A ruled notebook
*A writing utensil
*~3 hours of uninterrupted time
*Optional: A copy of The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months, by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington (not really needed for this exercise, but it will be absolutely amazing in helping you start working on the things you figure out with this exercise)

1: Get comfy in a place where you won’t be interrupted. Open your notebook and write “ASPIRATIONAL VISION (Long-Term)” across the top of the first page. Below that, write “The Life You Deeply Desire”.

Now, write down the following seven categories, with a few blank lines in between them for listing ideas:

Spiritual
Spouse (or Relationship or whatever works for you)
Family
Community
Physical
Personal
Business

These are the seven areas of “life balance” listed in the book. (Depending on which version you’re reading, they may have different names. I noticed that they were a little different between my e-loan from the library vs. my purchased hard copy.)

Take a few minutes to think about what a great life would look like in each of these categories in ten, twenty, fifty years. What would you like to be able to say those areas included in your life? What would you like them to look like?

Write down those thoughts next to the category they apply to. Don’t limit yourself here, it’s just brainstorming your pie-in-the-sky happy thoughts. No one is ever going to see this, so be free with your dreams.

2: On the next page, write:
THREE YEAR VISION
A: What needs to happen in the next three years to move towards long-term vision?
B: What would a GREAT personal and professional life look like, three years from now?

Now you’ll write an “area of life balance” category (spiritual, spouse, family, community, physical, personal, or business) and then under that heading write “A:” and then list everything you can think of that needs to happen in the next three years to move towards the long-term vision you wrote down on the first page of your notebook for that category. (You’ll be flipping back to that page A LOT throughout this exercise!)

When you finish listing all those things, start a new line with “B:” and write down what a GREAT life in that particular category would look like, three years from now.

For example, on my first page/ASPIRATIONAL VISION, under the category of “Physical,” I wrote:
Physical: Healthy weight, would love to be able to run, as pain-free as possible, no meds.

A couple of pages later, for the Physical category, I wrote:
A: Lose weight, keep doing physical therapy, strengthen full-body, build up walking plan to running plan, control eating
B: Wake up and work out hard without fear of injury, can run. Move fluidly, no pain. Eat healthy diet–lean meats, lots of produce. Don’t crave junk. Food is healthy and good–don’t feel deprived. Kids are healthy. Ankles don’t swell and bones in feet don’t ache. Back doesn’t ache, and I can move easily.

A special note for the “personal” category: Because there were so many, unrelated topics in my aspirational vision for my personal life (read: hobbies and interests), I had to organize that section differently when I came to it. Let’s say you list, among other things, the three ideas of “can speak other languages,” “can play musical instruments,” and “travel.” I organized this category like this:

6. PERSONAL
A. What needs to happen in the next three years?

I. Choose & learn languages
a. Spanish
b. Mandarin (or Cantonese?)

II. Musical Instruments
a. Piano: Keep practicing & progressing
b. Bagpipes: Find a teacher, rent a set, start learning
c. Other instruments?

III. Travel
a. Brainstorm/Research
b. Save $$$
c. Learn appropriate languages
d. Photography equipment/skills

B. What would a great life look like in this category, three years from now?

I. Languages
a. Can hold basic conversations in Spanish and Mandarin(?)
b. Can read easy books in target languages

II. Music
a. Piano: Can sight-play hymns
b. Bagpipes: Be a member of a bagpipe group and perform with them
c. Other: Violin? Play prelude @ church

III. Travel
a. Know of places I want to see/excited about specific areas/attractions
b. Savings for trips building up/have an amount that gets automatically deposited
c. Progressing in languages
d. Offered opportunities to travel because I’m good at what I do at work
e. Have the photography equipment to take good pictures, and I’ve practiced enough to do a really great job at it

(No, I don’t actually want to learn to play the bagpipes; I just thought it’d be a great way to show how to brainstorm about something out of your comfort/knowledge zone.)

And…that’s it. When you’re done with this exercise, you’ll definitely be prepared to follow the rest of the 12 Week Year plan and start moving forward wisely towards goals that actually mean something to you. The book tells you how to set it all up and track it, so there’s no point to me reiterating it here.

Writing down and figuring out your life vision is the keystone of this goal-setting system. I remember when I was in the middle of my first 12 Week cycle, and in the depths of despair over my (seemingly) sluggish progress towards my goals, and wondering if I should just give up or if any of it even mattered, and I happened to read through whatever chapter said that part of my planning/strategic time each week should include re-reading my life vision and checking and seeing if I was still emotionally connected with it.

So I did. And I cried. Because, YES, I wanted to be able to say that my life consisted of those things! It gave me the psychological boost to keep showing up and performing the actions I knew I needed to do to move towards those goals. I was even able to condense my vision down into two sentences after that, and I repeat those two sentences to myself all the time because they make me excited to keep doing the hard work that will eventually get me to those goals.

And the beauty of having written this all down in a notebook? You can use the remaining pages for figuring out what goals you’re going to work on in future 12 Week cycles, keep track of your tactics, and all that other good stuff. All my brainstormings, to-do-lists…in that one notebook. Easy peasy.

I hope this clears up any confusion anyone may have had about what I’ve been talking about!

(If there’s interest, I can also write a post about how I choose what my next goals are going to be, and how I plan my week so I can actually find time to work on my goals.)

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