Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life magazine. She recently taught a course for the en*theos Academy, and it’s a privilege to highlight the Big Ideas from her course!
Gerasimo developed the Refine Your Life process over the course of more than a decade while doing her own work, sorting through the “greatest hits” of leading personal-development tools and philosophies, and finding what worked best for her. Where effective tools didn’t exist, she created her own.
The resulting Refine Your Life philosophy delivers a practical framework for moving through what Gerasimo sees as a recurrent and inherently rewarding cycle of change.
So let’s dive in and start refining!
Personal growth and development, Gerasimo points out, is not a linear process, but a cyclical, continuous voyage through four evolving phases: assessment, commitment, feedback and follow-through — and then back to assessment once again.
We go through this process over and over again throughout our lifetimes whether we realize it or not, Gerasimo says, but when we notice and approach these cycles with awareness, things tend to go better for us.
Setbacks, stall-outs, directional adjustments and re-dos are inevitable parts of the process. What’s important, she says, is that when you find yourself off track on a goal or chosen change, you don’t classify that as a “failure” or dead end. You just need to notice that you’ve stalled, identify where you are in the four-phase process and then consciously choose to take the next step in your cycle.
Gerasimo points out, for example, that if you’ve decided to make a change in your life, started to pursue a particular course of action, but then fallen off your plan or lost steam, that’s not failure — it’s “feedback.” It’s just telling you that something about your approach isn’t fully baked or dialed in.
Maybe your goal was ill-defined or unrealistic, maybe your plan was flawed, maybe you weren’t quite as ready or prepared as you needed to be. That’s fine. Now you just need to “follow through” by adjusting your plan, getting more support, or developing a missing skill or perspective that will allow you to proceed more successfully.
You Are Here
This is a seemingly small point, but a very big idea: Before you can change your life, you have to know where you are and what really matters to you. That’s why the Refine Your Life process begins with assessment. Gerasimo presents a couple of valuable tools for this purpose. One is a well-known visual model called a life wheel. (You can find a worksheet for this and many other Refine Your Life exercises at ELmag.com/refine
yourlife.) It helps you better understand which areas of your life are working well, which aren’t, and what you can do about that.
By homing in on areas of relative fulfillment, frustration and ho-humness, says Gerasimo, you can begin to recognize which areas of your life have received the benefit of your attention and natural strengths, and which might be asking for additional focus.
The process begins with a simple evaluation exercise: Rate how fulfilled you feel on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not at all fulfilled and 10 being totally fulfilled) in each of the following eight areas: career/profession; family and friends; community involvement; finances; fun, relaxation, creativity; physical health and well-being; spiritual/soul/purpose; and relationship with spouse/partner/significant other.
When you’ve rated each area, transfer the scores to the life wheel, which gives you a visual sense of key imbalances and how they might be affecting you. From there, you can consider the following questions and use a journal to record your answers:
- Which areas of my life are the most satisfying and fulfilling? Why?
- In which areas of my life am I feeling dissatisfied or unfulfilled? What is not working? How is it affecting me and other areas of my life?
- What is feeling out of my control? What is in my control that I can influence or change?
- Which areas of my life, if upgraded, would have the biggest impact on all other areas? Where do I want to focus my time and energy to improve the overall quality of my life?
These questions will help you see where you may want to focus your attention during the Refine Your Life process.
The Values Vector
Refining your life and moving toward your ideal future, says Gerasimo, requires getting clear about your central values. Values aren’t just admirable qualities or idealistic principles, she notes: They are the real internal motivators that define essential aspects of your character and what you are drawn to.
Some people value accomplishment and success most highly; others value family and community; others value creativity, adventure, justice or courage. There are no right or wrong values, Gerasimo asserts, but it’s important to know what yours are, because your adherence to them will become a defining factor in how satisfying your life turns out to be.
When you live in alignment with your values, says Gerasimo, you tend to feel alive, present, engaged, inspired and fulfilled — even during times of challenge.
When you live out of alignment with your values, you tend to feel stressed, frustrated, “pulled apart,” helpless, desperate and stuck — even during times of apparent progress or success.
Knowing your values is essential to setting meaningful goals, and it can also be incredibly helpful in choosing your best course of action at any given time, she notes.
To clarify which values are most important to you, Gerasimo offers a “Peak Experience” exercise. She asks you to briefly consider and answer a number of questions, including the following:
- What moments/achievements in your life have caused you to feel most present, alive, engaged, inspired or proud?
- Who have you most admired or been impressed by, and why?
- What values do these moments and people represent? How did they touch you?
Don’t overthink the questions or judge your responses, Gerasimo advises, even if the spontaneous responses seem silly or odd to you now. Allow the answers to pop into your head and jot them down in a journal.
If you look more deeply into your responses, asking “what about that really touched or mattered to me?” you’ll discover the roots of some core values you may not have recognized before.
Gerasimo guides you to create a list of your top-10 values, and then narrow it to your top five — a short list of master values that will figure into subsequent exercises in her program.
A vision is a powerful, pre-seen picture of your ideal self and life. In Gerasimo’s “Landscape of Personal Change” model, your vision is a destination on a not-too-distant horizon — a picture of what you desire to create and experience in the foreseeable future.
Having a vision is important, Gerasimo argues, because when we work toward goals without one, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture, to veer off course, or to lose our sense of purpose.
Under these circumstances, life can seem to just “happen to you,” you can waste vast amounts of time and energy, and you risk becoming a victim of your own best intentions.
To help people avoid this fate, Gerasimo created a very cool “Your Ideal Day” audio podcast (part of the en*theos Blissitations catalog). It includes a great introduction to visualization as a tool for personal change, a guided visualization exercise, supportive affirmations, and suggestions for creating a vision board that expresses your vision and lets you connect with it in a more visceral way. You can download a free MP3 of Gerasimo’s Blissitation at www.entheos.com/blissitations/ExpLife.
Cultivate Your Goals
Once you have an inspiring, big-picture idea of where you’re headed, it’s time to define some goals that will help get you there.
Goals are the “commitment” and action phase of the change cycle, and this is one area where Gerasimo found it helpful to create her own unique conceptual tool.
Rather than seeing goals as a concrete list of objectives to check off, she reframes them as living organisms — “Goal Flowers” we can plant and grow by choice. They flourish with the right tending, and tend to wilt, wither or die if they don’t get the right attention and supportive resources.
Gerasimo’s Goal Flower model emphasizes learning and self-discovery while also presenting you with a clear process for defining, planning and pursuing individual goals — goals that are rooted in your authentic values and are consistent with your life vision. (Both a sample and a blank Goal Flower worksheet are available at ELmag.com/refine
Gerasimo invites you to imagine that you are planting your Goal Flowers in the terrain of your current life. What forces would be working for and against these flowers’ healthy growth? What skills and resources could you draw on to provide your flowers with adequate water, sunshine, nutrients and other supports? What could you do to protect your flower from unwanted weeds, pests and other obstacles?
Inevitably, she notes, obstacles will crop up. An unexpected drought can stress even the hardiest plants. Pesky weeds and rabbits can reverse your progress when you’re not looking. This is where things get interesting, says Gerasimo.
We tend to think of obstacles as bad things, she notes, but in fact they offer us rich opportunities to grow in precisely those ways we will most benefit from growing, whether that means learning to set boundaries, developing missing skills or acknowledging that we are conflicted about our commitments.
Gerasimo counsels us to reframe obstacles as opportunities for self-discovery. Ask yourself: What can I learn from this? Where else in my life is this same obstacle showing up, and how has it served me? What can I do to address it now? Where is my opportunity to stretch? Am I ready to let this obstacle go?
If you still find yourself feeling confused, frustrated or stuck, Gerasimo suggests taking a moment to just sit with and fully experience those feelings, versus reacting to them right away. Let go of self-judgment and blame for a moment, she suggests. Ask yourself what your best options and choices are right now.
Then “follow through” by going in search of the new skills and support systems you need to grow and change in the direction of your goals and dreams.
The final segment of the Refine Your Life course represents a completion of the cycle. We return once again to “assessment” by identifying and celebrating successes, which Gerasimo defines as any incremental progress or insight you have gained during the process.
In virtually any situation, Gerasimo advises, this is a promising path forward: Do the things you can do, and celebrate your learning and your progress as you go. As long as you stay open, aware and committed to the cycle of personal change, you win!
Brian Johnson is the Philosopher and CEO of en*theos (www.entheos.com), a company that creates cool stuff to help people optimize their lives, including the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living, PhilosophersNotes and Blissitations. He is the author of A Philosopher’s Notes (en*theos Enterprises, 2010) and is featured in the documentary Finding Joe. Learn more at BrianJohnson.me.