Posted on April 28, 2024  
by Noel Guilford

Last week I promised to share with you the tools you can use during the seven step process to creating your ideal life. It begins with a simple yet profound question:

1. How do I define a great life?

The starting point of any corporate strategy process is to define the metrics for success. For example, does the business want its strategy to focus on driving sales, profitability or shareholder value? But what are the right metrics in an individual’s life? Social norms might suggest we measure money, fame, and power. But studies have shown that money leads to greater happiness only to the extent that our basic needs are met.

One way to determine what makes a great life for you is to use the PERMA model, introduced by Martin Seligman, in his 2011 book, Flourish and later developed into PERMA-V, which stands for:

  • Positive emotions (frequent feelings of pleasure and contentment),
  • Engagement (being in the flow, losing track of time),
  • Relationships (mutual feelings of caring, support, and love),
  • Meaning (contributing to making the world a better place),
  • Achievement (striving for success or mastery, reaching goals), and
  • Vitality (being healthy and energetic).

Start with each element in PERMA-V, or even add your own categories, then rate each one’s importance to you on a scale from 0 (not important) to 10 (very important). Try to recall periods of deep satisfaction in your past and consider what triggered them. This quick assessment will give you a rough idea of how you define a great life and initial ideas about what you need to change.

2. What is my life purpose?

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. —Mark Twain

For a corporate strategy to be successful, it must be anchored to the business’s purpose; this is achieved by answering a series of questions businesses use to develop their purpose statements. The same questions can be used to find your life purpose. Ask yourself:

  • What am I good at? Think about situations at work or in other areas of life in which you have demonstrated critical strengths such as creativity, teamwork, or analytical skills.
  • What are my core values? Think about critical decisions you’ve made and principles you hold dear that have provided direction, such as honesty, fairness, or integrity.
  • Which activities am I passionate about? Perhaps your answers include mentoring, problem-solving, or helping young people.
  • What need can I help address in the world? It could be one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, such as quality education, decent work and economic growth, or innovation.
  • Where can I have the most impact on others? Don’t try to solve all the world’s problems on your own; identify those areas where you can make the most difference.

Ask friends or family members what your strengths are, what values you live by, what things excite you, and what need you might help fill. Draw from your own answers and theirs to draft your purpose statement.

3. What is my life vision?

The next step in building a corporate strategy is to set out a vision for the future. I ask business owners where they want their business to be — in terms of innovation, growth, product portfolio, market presence, etc. — in 5 to 10 years’ time.

So, ask yourself: What story would I like people to tell about me 5 to 10 years from now? What would I do if money wasn’t an issue? What will the 80-year-old me not want to have missed in life? Your purpose and your strengths might also trigger some ideas about your vision.

In both business and individual life strategy, a vision can give you focus. You might end up with a short list of bullet points or a one-sentence summary of your vision. No matter how you capture it, a vision statement can be powerful in guiding your life.

4. How do I decide where to invest my time?

In the 1970s and 80s businesses used the Boston Consulting Group growth-share matrix (also called (product portfolio analysis) to assess their business’s products on key parameters such as market growth or share and to decide where to invest capital.

But what is the equivalent of a business product in life? The answer is to focus on six strategic life areas (SLAs):

  • Relationships.
  • Body, mind, and spirituality
  • Community and society
  • Career, learning, and finances
  • Interests and entertainment; and
  • Personal care.

Look back at the past year and assess how much time you spent on each of these areas in an average week. Next, rate them on a scale of 0 to 10 based on how important they are to you. Then rate the satisfaction you derive from each on the same scale. (This goes one level deeper than the similar PERMA-V exercise.)

Now sketch out your own matrix: I call it the Strategic Life Portfolio. But instead of mapping growth against share, you will put the importance of each area on the y-axis and the satisfaction it brings on the x-axis. Plot each area with a bubble, making the size of the bubble roughly proportional to the percentage of time in a week you spend on it.

Now, look at your matrix and ask yourself: Do the areas where I spend my time put me on the right track to support my purpose and achieve my vision? Does it bring me closer to how I define a great life? Where can I save and reallocate my time?

5. What studies can I learn from to set benchmarks for life satisfaction?

In almost every strategy project, we do a best practice and benchmarking analysis to understand what we can learn from leading businesses and competitors. We can do the same for individuals by looking at role models and then, more importantly, at the research on life satisfaction.

Ask yourself: Who conducts their personal and professional life in a way I admire? What makes them admirable, and what choices would they make if they were in your shoes?

Now consider what scientific studies tell us about life satisfaction. One of the largest studies on life satisfaction found that significant others, children, friends, sports, spirituality, community involvement, and nutrition all contribute to life satisfaction. Not surprisingly, health problems have a very negative impact.

Other studies have found that proven life-enhancers include practicing kindness, mindfulness, meditation, and gratefulness; cultivating more humour and laughter; dedicating time to learning; and developing a growth mindset.

6. What changes in my priorities can I make?

Corporate strategy is about making choices between options: Should we keep our current portfolio, diversify, focus, acquire a company, or enter a new market? In life, the equivalent questions are: What happens if I continue to live my life the way I am now? What if I change my priorities? Equipped with your definition of a great life, your purpose, your vision, your SLU ratings, and your benchmarks, you are ready to find out.

Go back to the great-life exercise in step 1 and think about what you can do for your areas of dissatisfaction. Review your purpose and vision from steps 2 and 3. Think about the areas that step 4’s portfolio exercise identified as needing more attention. Then consider how the insights gleaned from step 5’s benchmarks can help you with all of the above. From this long list of potential changes and actions – small and large – select several that will best move you towards a great life and commit to them.

Be specific about what you want to change. You have only 168 hours each week, which means you must reduce, outsource, or bundle existing activities, or make them more efficient through productivity strategies and tools. Life strategy is about setting priorities; it is not about filling every waking minute.

If you know which strategic life area needs work but don’t know what changes to make, dig deeper and develop a strategy for that area. For example, to develop a job/career strategy, ask yourself the following questions: How does my current job support my purpose and vision? Does my current job give me a sense of achievement and engagement (two of the six great-life dimensions)? How does my current job align with the strengths I identified in the purpose step? The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how to move forward in your career.

7. How can I ensure and measure a successful, sustained life change?

Change is not easy. Many businesses ensure successful implementation of the strategies they’ve outlined by using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). OKRs are focused, ambitious, output-oriented, flexible, measurable, and transparent, and were first introduced by venture capitalist John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters.

I recommend doing the same for each of the changes you committed to in step 6. Define the objectives and the date by which you want to achieve them. Then break down each of those objectives into a few key results or action items, again with deadlines. Consider adding them directly to your calendar.

Your One-Page Life Strategy

Often, the seeming enormity of an important task — like life strategy development — is what stops us from doing it. So, to make what seems impossible possible, I recommend putting your entire life strategy on a single sheet of paper.

To start, write down what defines a great life for you. Next, record your strengths, your values, what lights you up, and what the world needs, and then add your purpose statement that incorporates those ideas. Third, summarise your life vision. Fourth, note the SLUs that are high priorities for action or that you spend too much time on. Next, write down the changes you’d like to make and commit to. Finally, for each of those changes, list an objective and two to three key results with deadlines, and then note the anchors, the consequences, and the check-in plan to make the change stick.

This page is your first minimum viable life strategy. As with corporate strategy, it needs to be reviewed, adjusted, and updated on a regular basis. A lot of it depends on you and the choices you make. A life strategy will not only guide you but also build your resilience so that you’re better able to recover from missteps.

Now, go and do the same. Your life is your top strategic priority.

This blog is an abridged version of my paper ‘What’s more important than your life?’ – where I also break down the six strategic life areas into sixteen strategic life units and give you an example of a Strategic Life Portfolio. You can download the extended version here (no opt-in required).

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Noel Guilford


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