I’d like to wish you a happy and prosperous new year (in the broadest sense of the word prosperity). I know soon you will jump into the hustle and bustle of your life. But before you do, there is still a little time for self-reflection.
Writer Carl Sandburg made a strong case for carving out time to ask the important questions about yourself:
It is necessary now and then for a man [or a woman] to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’ . . . If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one’s time—the stuff of life.”
So, before the momentum of the new year carries you away, I offer you three of my favorite self-reflection exercises. A pen, paper, and a quiet space with no distractions are all you need. And the rewards of personal insight you gain are invaluable.
Here are the three self-reflection exercises.
Self-Reflection Exercise #1 – The 110-Year-Old You
Tal Ben-Shahar is a leader in the field of positive psychology and author of the really cool books Happier and Pursuit of Perfect. Tal tells us that we already have within us all of the wisdom we need to face the challenges in our life.
To prove his point, think about stories you’ve heard when people have near death experiences or terminal illnesses and then radically transform their lives for the better. All of the sudden they know what they should be doing and the types of things they won’t ever waste time on. Nothing new had to be learned. The wisdom was just dormant inside of them.
To tap into that wisdom we already have, Tal shares the following helpful exercise.
Imagine that far in the future Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin business conglomerate creates a new company: Virgin Time Travel. Your 110-year-old-self chooses to travel back in time to meet with the current you right now, at this moment.
You and your future self only have 30 minutes together. What truths, advice, and lessons would your 110-year-old-self share with you?
And if you only had 10 minutes together? What would your future self tell you then?
And if you only had 60 seconds!? What then?
Get out your pen and a journal or a notebook, sit down, and write down these questions and your responses. If your experience is anything like mine the advice you’ll receive is extremely helpful and thought-provoking.
My advice … LISTEN TO YOUR ELDER!
Self-Reflection Exercise #2 – DaVinci & 100 Questions
When I was in college, a mentor shared a book with me that I still cherish and pull off of my book shelf often. The book is called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb.
In the book, Gelb shares 7 principles that characterize the genius of da Vinci. He also gives you exercises so that you can grow in these areas.
The first principle is Curiositá, Italian for an insatiable curiosity. And the corresponding exercise is called “100 Questions,” which helps you apply this curiosity to yourself.
Here are the steps to this powerful exercise.
Set aside at least 45-60 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. In your journal or notebook make a list of 100 questions. These questions can be anything you want, from “How can I make more money?” or “What is the meaning of life?” to “Why do emus have wings?” or “What’s for dinner?”
The only rule is that you have to do it all in one sitting. Write whatever comes to mind, write quickly, and don’t judge the questions or worry if they’re good enough.
The first 10-20 questions will be easy, but then you might hit a wall like I did. Keep going. Don’t worry about repeating the same question or coming back to the same topics (this is actually an important part of the exercise to recognize themes in your mind). The questions that come to you late in the process may be the most important.
Once you’ve finished with at least 100 questions, review your list and highlight the themes that have emerged. Did you write a lot about money? Your family? Your job? Vacation? Hobbies?
Some of the themes will be familiar but others may be a revelation.
Again review your list of 100 questions and choose the 10 that seem most significant to you. Then rank these in importance from 1 to 10. Don’t worry about answering these questions right now. The work of writing them and creating a list that you can go back to is all that’s important.
Gelb calls your top 10 questions Power Questions. If you ponder and reflect on them they have the power to change your life for the better (and also the power to shake you up a bit, so be careful!)
Here is a great list of 10 Power Questions compiled by Brian Johnson (optimize.me), who is an author and thinker who I enjoy following and who also did this exercise:
- How can you use your strengths in greatest service to yourself, your family, your community, and the world?
- How can you get paid to do what you love?
- What 5 things are you most proud of? What 5 things will you be most proud of?
- If you had all of the time and money in the world, what would you do?
- What’s your ideal day look like? When you get up? What do you do? With whom? For whom? Imagine it in vivid detail!
- Who are your heroes? Why? How are you like them?
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
- If you were guaranteed to succeed, what’s the #1 thing you would do? What else?
- What is it that you and only you can do for the world?
- How can you live in more integrity with your ideals? What’s the #1 thing you could start doing that would have the most positive impact in your life? What’s the #1 thing you could *stop* doing that would have the most positive impact in your life? Sweet. Now rock it!
I recommend writing down any of the questions that resonate with you and just letting them simmer in your mind for days. Let them bubble up when you’re in the shower, when you wake in the morning, or when you’re driving your car.
Pondering these questions, like “How can I get paid to do what I love?” has been significant in my life. The articles you’re reading and the classes and coaching I’ve done in the past are the results of living this question!
Self-Reflection Exercise #3: Work Backward From the End
A favorite book of mine is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s 2nd Habit is “Begin from the End” (right after “Be Proactive” and right before “Put First Things First.”)
The basic principle of Habit #2 is that everything in life is created twice, first in the mind/business plan/blueprint and second in reality.
Think about building a house. Someone always creates a design or blueprint of the entire structure first. Then the house is actually built.
Our lives are the same way. We have to first imagine our ideal self in our mind before this ideal can become a reality.
Covey shares an amazing exercise to begin thinking from the end … the ultimate end:
Imagine this: You’re walking into a funeral. Look around and notice what the place feels like, sounds like, and how many people are present.
Then realize that it’s *your* funeral!
You get to observe as the people in your life, one-by-one, say their last words for you. What do they say?
What words are shared by your family? By your colleagues at your job? From people in the community? And even your tenants and customers at work?
I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t brag that you had the biggest bank account, the most impressive title at work, the best house, or the fanciest car.
If not those things, what legacies and gifts DID you leave? What did you stand for during your short time here on earth?
Compile a list of priorities and ideas that come about from these final words at your funeral. You can organize these ideas into a list of values, or perhaps you can write a story that describes this ideal version of your self.
For about 15 years now, I’ve done this exercise off and on. The results for me have been a list of virtues or values that I find most important and which I try to use as a code to guide my decisions and actions in life (TRY is the key word here folks). The idea for this list of virtues came from a similar list of 13 virtues shared by Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography.
For me creating the list was awkward and clumsy at first, but over time the concepts became a special and important part of my life that I revisit often.
This sort of list can be used as a guide when reflecting on your life. For example, you may ask, “Has my life of late been in harmony with my own expressed values? If no, why not?”
I would argue that your happiness and mental health are in large part related to how closely the reality of your life fits your own values or blueprint. And if you don’t even know your own blueprint, realize that someone else has created it for you. The media, politicians, marketers, and other influencers are building this list for you. Is that who you want to build a blueprint for your life?
So, I think it’s time to do a little blueprint drawing, don’t you?!
For those curious souls, here’s my latest version of a values list:
- Gratitude & Optimism
- Joy & Enthusiasm
- Wonder & Humility
- Love & Generosity
- Courage & Tenacity
These may not inspire you. That’s fine. They do mean something to me, and that’s the point. As you ask yourself the same questions in the exercises, the values most important to you will naturally rise to the surface.
I hope these exercises have been as helpful for you as they have for me. While they may not seem directly related to real estate investing and wealth building, I think they are the very foundation of any success in those areas.
These types of exercises aren’t easy. They take time, and they can be uncomfortable. But, you will thank yourself for taking on the most difficult but important of all projects, shaping the contents of your own mind.
I look forward to hearing your feedback from these exercises. I also look forward to sharing with you this year and for many years to come.
Have you done any of these self-reflection exercises? Were they helpful for you? Do you have any other practices that help you learn more about yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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