Knowing you want to change is the easy bit – working out what direction to take is way harder. Here’s how to think it through without getting bogged down with obstacles and yes-buts.

Some lucky people have a strong vision of where they want their life to go, but many of us can be rather hazier about the details. We know we want change. We’re ready and willing to welcome that in, but we just can’t figure out what that means. Additionally, we may be so nervous about making the wrong changes that we get stuck, doing nothing at all, and end up feeling frustrated with ourselves for not taking action.

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the big vision that we forget about the little things that are going to make our future work for us. Our life isn’t all big causes and swapping jobs. We may not even feel a strong sense of purpose. What we can be sure of is that life is made up of many small moments that will add together to create our feelings about life and ultimately, determine how satisfied we are with it.

Before you can create a big vision for the future, here are three approaches that may help narrow down your ideas and give you clarity.

What Matters to Me?

Let’s try a little exercise here by taking five jobs you’ve had in the past, plus your current role. You can go right back to Saturday jobs and holiday bar work if you like; just try to get some variety in there.

Take a separate piece of paper for each job. Just note down, for each of them, what comes to your mind about them – it can be anything from having to use negotiating skills to the fact that you hated climbing five flights of stairs to use the loo, from being creatively challenged to being able to wear trainers at work. Without overthinking it, list a few key things that come to mind for each role. Now take some coloured pens and go through, underlining things which are similar or the same in each job. They may not be found in every job, but even if they’re in two, underline them.

Now, take a look at what you’ve underlined. The very fact that you’ve written them down means that they are important to you in some way – after all, we don’t notice things that don’t mean anything to us. The question is why are they important? So… three of your jobs had a dress down Friday. Did you like that or hate it? Or maybe interacting with and helping other people was a key factor – did you enjoy that aspect? The pressure of deadlines was a common theme – did you thrive under these circumstances or hate them?

Look at the language you are using and how you really feel about what you’ve written. I once did a similar exercise with a group. Two of them had written down working from home, but when questioned, one said this had connotations of being lonely, the other said it was calm and peaceful. So if you do this exercise with someone else, be sure to reflect on your own meanings, not be guided by theirs.

Now you should have a sense of what elements of a role have meaning for you. Give yourself time to think about the significance of, say, being part of a dynamic team, helping others or being intellectually challenged – or whatever it may be. Only you will know if the common themes we’ve underlined are important to you in a good way or a bad one. This information will help you narrow down how you use these elements – or don’t – in your new life.

“The theory of Possible Selves suggests that there are multiple possibilities for us out there. We don’t choose because it’s frightening to commit”

Exploring Possible Selves

Now, rather than put too much pressure on yourself to come up with the big design for the rest of your life, think about approaching it more playfully. What have you always wanted to try but never got around to, and how can you combine it in some way with the common themes?

Think about ways you can explore and find out more about a particular passion. What questions would you ask someone doing a role you’ve fantasised about? What would it be like to give it all up and write that novel you’ve been planning in your head for the last five years?

The theory of Possible Selves suggests that there are multiple possibilities for us out there – you can write that novel, but equally, you could go for that promotion or go back to University part time. We don’t choose because it’s frightening to commit, but what if you could just play with the ideas? For instance you could take two weeks off to write two chapters and see how you cope with working from home all day and having to reach a certain word count. Or what if you spoke to the person who is doing that job right now, or even asked to shadow them for a day? What if you did an evening course to see how it feels and if the subject really is for you? At the end of your experiment you may decide you can’t stand the isolation of writing from home, you couldn’t last the course and, surprisingly, you really like the idea of a new challenge at work. Or you may feel certainty that a particular new life plan is absolutely right for you. At least you will know, instead of continuing to wonder.

Any change, even small ones like these, will inevitably give us fuel to help us make better decisions and clues as to what’s going to work for us. Then it’s up to us to take some real action. If that’s where you feel stuck though, why don’t you…

…Look at your Worst Possible Self

Of course, we have that other potential self. The self we will be if we don’t change. If you need impetus then looking at how your life will be if you stay in that unhappy marriage/put up with that job with the two hour commute/carry on numbing yourself with social media and box sets rather than writing your book… or whatever less than perfect circumstances you are putting up with. Really dig into how it’s going to feel in five or ten years’ time if you haven’t changed anything. How frustrated you will be feeling. Use this Possible You to provoke you to do something – anything – to start change happening.

Words: Paula Gardner, business psychologist and coach working with businesses and individuals who want to change http:///

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