BOOK REVIEW: DESIGNING YOUR LIFE

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I was recommended this book by my Life Coaching mentor when I was just starting out and making all sorts of contemplations on how I could fit my love of coaching into my day-job and how I could also pursue other passions in my life.

'Designing Your Life' is a New York Times Best Seller, written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans who teach design at Stanford University, and also run courses in applying design principles to your life and career. This book is essentially a condensed version of that course and has some pretty compelling tools and techniques to help you unlock your imagination and re-frame your approach to your working life in order to achieve long-term balance and contentment.

The book drew me in early by introducing the idea of a 'work view' and a 'life view'. It asks the reader to describe their values when it comes to their work and then their values when it comes to their life in general. So, do they match? Or do they clash? It is a really great way to get an immediate impression on whether there is a disconnect between what you are passionate about in life and what you actually do in your job.

But what happens if you don't actually know what you are passionate about in life? This is where the book asks the reader to create a Good Time Journal. It's an exercise in which you assess the activity throughout your week and give it a rating according to how engaged you are with it and how much it energises you. By doing this, we can very quickly identify which activities are most engaging, but also energise us, rather than drain our energy. We want to aim for a life where there is a higher proportion of activity that is both engaging and energising. But of course we have to accept that there are times where dull activity, that is draining, is necessary but tolerable.

The activity that we really want to identify is that where you feel the 'flow'. This is engagement on steroids; a feeling of complete involvement in the activity; a sense of euphoria and being totally at calm and at peace. A few examples of this for me are when I am coaching, writing this blog or when I used to do wedding singing.

But what happens if you feel stuck in a life that has a high proportion of non-engaging and draining activity and you can't see a way out? 'Designing Your Life' asks you to IDEATE. That is, conduct an exercise where you throw as many ideas out there as possible. This is a designer principle. If you want to find a good idea then you need lots to choose from. In this book, the exercise they recommend is mind-mapping which is a word association exercise, writing a few key ideas onto a blank sheet of paper and then letting your intuition and imagination generate all the images and activites that are associated with those ideas that make you feel good. In the book, Grant is used as an example of someone who felt stuck working for a car-rental company, but using his Good Time Journal of activities that engaged him and energised him, he discovered that his perfect job would be to run a Pirate-themed surf camp for kids (!). He realised that his car rental company could transfer him to a location near a beach where he could start exploring this idea.

Throughout the book are bubbles of dysfunctional beliefs that the authors reframe according to design principles. For example, the dysfunctional belief that 'I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan and then execute it' is re-framed into 'there are multiple great lives (and plans) within me and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next'. Another one I like was reframing the dysfunctional belief that 'life is a finite game with winners and losers' into 'life is an infinite game with no winners and losers' that encourages you to see your life as a unique evolving journey of being, doing and becoming.

Of course that reframing sits in the chapter dedicated to becoming immune to failure, by reframing it as an opportunity to learn and grow. The book gives a good technique in which to categorise your failures into those that were one-off screw-ups, that you know are not your common traits; those that are your weaknesses, that you should anticipate and mitigate and those that provide insight and growth opportunity. This helps to detach you from the negative emotions of failure but rationalise it pragmatically to prevent fear of moving forward.

These were some of the highlights of the book that stood out to me in amongst some practical tips on your approach when applying for jobs, prototyping your dream job by seeking out and interviewing those already doing what you want to do. There is also a good exercise in developing 'Odyssey's' of three alternative 5-year plans to help you assess your resources, confidence and coherence in making them happen.

This kind of book is a great read to inspire the imagination and really help you get unstuck when you feel you are out of options. There are so many books out there recommending different techniques to move you forward, that it can seem overwhelming, but it is my job as a Coach to maintain a good awareness of this landscape so that I can recommend different techniques to different people according to their own personal style.

Please get in touch if you fancy a chat on whether you think Life Coaching could work for you. Who knows, together we can design you a new life that you never thought was possible.

Take care for now.

Oliver

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