How Many Lives Are You, Part Two

This is part two in a two part series exploring the different lives we can and currently do live. This post is meant to help you apply the thinking you started doing as a result of the first post. This was crafted for your enjoyment by Bill Burnett. 

One of the most interesting questions we ask the participants in our one-day Designing Your Life Workshop* is “How Many Lives Are You? If you’ve read part 1 of this blog post, you know the average answer is seven or eight, and some people answer “hundreds”. We ask this question to set up the Odyssey Plan exercise, but it has a deeper meaning as well. Once you adopt the mindset of a design thinker you know that “you choose better if you choose from a lot of ideas”. Designers know to never go with their first idea, it is almost always a bad one. And when we teach ideation techniques like brainstorming and mind mapping, we always reward the team with the most ideas. So spending sometime time imagining multiple parallel versions of your life makes sense from an ideation perspective.

But you might ask; “Will I just be more bummed out when I realize that six or seven wonderful versions of me got away, and I’ll never be a doctor or an astronaut?” While that might be possible, what we know about choosing and decision-making from positive psychology research tells us that, if you do it right, making a good selection from a great list of possibilities can make you happier and increase the sense of meaning in your life. It turns out that it’s not about what you “let go” that matters, it is about what you “choose, and then let go of the rest” that matters. Having too many choices can be a bad thing, and it can force your brain into choice overload. Then you can’t make any decisions, good or bad. But when you brainstorm a lot, then narrow your list down to a manageable number of choices (the brain science tells us that is 5-7, no more), and then make your choice irrevocable – you maximize your chance of being happy with your choice.

And when that choice fits your Worldview and Lifeview, when it is a coherent choice, you are building meaning into your life. And, all the research, and a thousand years of wisdom and spiritual traditions, shows that meaning is what we’re really after.

*For a schedule of workshops near you, check out upcoming workshops and events here