A few years ago, a fellow Experience Life team member introduced me to the work of author and journalist Emily Esfahani Smith. Her book, now titled The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness, had just come out and we were planning to talk with her about it for an upcoming issue of the magazine.
Having recently muddled through a tough period in my own life, I ordered the book in hopes of gaining insight into the role of adversity in finding deeper meaning. I got that and more from it, including a concept that I’ve come back to many times since reading the book.
In her work, Smith writes about counterfactual thinking — the exercise of “imagining how life would have turned out if some event had or had not occurred.” She refers to these moments as turning points.
For instance, when I decided at the last minute to spend the summer after my sophomore year of college working at a restaurant in the Twin Cities instead of moving back home, it ultimately resulted in an introduction to my future husband. Had I gone home that summer as originally planned, I might be in a very different place right now.
Identifying those life turning points — the highs and the lows, those in my control and not — has made me grateful for all I’ve learned and been through to get here. It’s helped me see that I have a measure of control over where I’m headed, as well as the ability to create and live a deeply meaningful life.
And that’s where some other tools come into the picture. While counterfactual thinking offers an opportunity for reflection, other practices help me clarify how I want my life to look and feel going forward. Enter the vision board, and best-selling author Rachel Hollis’s “10/10/1” plan.
A vision board is a visual manifestation of the goals and dreams we want to achieve. It’s a daily reminder of what we’re working toward and where we want to go — a clarifying tool for the life we most desire. (For more on how to create a vision board, visit “Make a Vision Board”.)
I made my first vision board back in 2007, and when I look back at it now, it’s amazing to see all the elements that have become a reality: a healthy relationship, children, a comfortable home, and fitness achievements, among others. That board still hangs in my office today.
I recently started cutting out images and words for my next vision board, and many of them speak to the dreams I’ve been documenting using Hollis’s “10/10/1” practice. She explains it in her 2019 book, Girl, Stop Apologizing: “Who do you want to be in 10 years? What are the 10 dreams that would make that a reality for you? . . .
“Write down those 10 dreams in a notebook every single day. And write them as if they’ve already happened.”
For instance, here are a few of mine: I am a children’s book author. I move my body for 45 minutes every day. I travel two or three times a year for fun.
From there, Hollis suggests picking one of those 10 dreams to focus on as a goal right now. When that’s a reality, pick another. With each accomplishment, you’re a little bit closer to that 10-year dream.
These are the reflection and visioning tools that work for me, but as this month’s theme suggests, follow your own path. Whatever yours is, don’t be afraid to put your dreams out there so those big ideas can grow along the way.