How to decide and how to change

In early 2011, I sternly sat myself down to journal. I’m an intermittent diarist, but in this moment I had a particular task: design my upcoming move to and life in Reno, NV. I was upending everything I knew in Alaska to go see about a guy who lived there. I had enough bravery (recklessness?) to make the move, but had also scrapped together enough wisdom about relationships to know that this one only had a shot at working out if I first put the pieces in place for my own happiness and well being. In short, I didn’t want to rely on this guy – Wes – to provide for my entire upcoming existence in a new place.

I didn’t even know how important this was at the time, only that the exercise felt like something I needed to do.

Months later, after my move, I would marvel that what I’d doodled in my journal had essentially come to life. The word – obnoxious, overused, ignorant of its ability to perform mostly only within a certain level of privileged existence, yes I used that word too – manifest came to mind. And it came to mind yet again when a career coach for whom I had/have enormous respect offered me the feedback: You have an uncanny ability to manifest, Alli. Fully, and very quickly.

I sat with this feedback and thought about whether this was true. Over time, I realized – or did I ~*manifest*~ – that it basically was, even though as an impatient human I always felt that change didn’t come fast enough. Then I wondered if this ability was intrinsic to me, or a skill. Both, I decided. It was intrinsic because I live a rich life full of support and possibility, part of which I’ve been fortunate to be born into. And it’s a skill because I have tools at hand.

Here’s how I self-guided that journaling exercise that worked as a life-design primer for a big upcoming move, along with other tools that have worked for me in deciding on and adapting to change since*. I’ve written these out in advice form, so anyone can grab ’em and adapt as needed.

  • A Me (or Us) Summit – It starts with identifying and guarding time to take a step out of the daily thrum of life to zoom out. At minimum, this can be deciding on an hour over, say, a weekend that’s dedicated to this process. That’s how I initially visioned the move to Reno, and it was powerful enough to meaningfully support that change. But since then I’ve pushed myself to go to a third place, like a coffee shop, or for me/Wes we’ve rented a cabin for a weekend for a fresh place and perspective, and then pushed ourselves to think and dream from a new environment. The point is, the time and focus won’t necessarily just happen naturally. It feels a little awkward at first; it feels a little like work. …because it is work. Push yourself to spend the energy, in whatever dedicated time/space you are able to create. Think of it as a mini work retreat for yourself. Or, my shorthand, a “Me Summit”. Hokey, but it gets the point across.
  • Energy In/Energy Out – Create a list of things that bring you energy and things that drain your energy. I’ve seen this done with “you” as a central focal point in the middle of a circle, with arrows in for energy-boosts, and arrows away for energy draws. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s simply a brainstorm. But be as specific as possible. Examples of “energy in” (they’ll differ for everyone): gardening, time with loved ones, good food. Examples of “energy out”: email, financial stress, navigating health insurance.
  • % of Time – Reflecting on the previous brainstorm, imagine – and put pen to paper – your ideal percentage of life time you are spending on various activities. We’re not at the “but Alli, I want to garden 100% of the time and yet…still need a paycheck” part yet – we’ll get there. This is simply, in an ideal life scenario, what percentage of your life would be spent on what? How much of your energy with family/friends; how much in a yoga studio? How much of your life is dedicated to service, or working with your hands, being outside – etc? These are just examples. Specifics should be drawn from reflecting on your own Energy In/Out list, and anything else that comes up for you as a result of that exercise.
  • Needs – Bringing it back down to earth just a little, this is where you identify the “must have’s” in your life. This can be the elemental pieces you’ve just identified, like – for me – exercise, relationships, and being outdoors. Those are non negotiables, but in addition to those I’ve got this pesky asthma/hypothyroid that I need to manage. Additional needs could be, simply, food and clean water, supporting a family/kids, transportation. In this section, don’t get tripped up on the mechanics yet. By that I mean, if aging well is important to you, write that down but don’t yet list contributing to/creating a retirement fund – that’s a “how”, not a what. Thinking about the underlying needs will help you in brainstorming solutions, but not if you write down the “solutions” first.
  • Potential Solutions – Okay, now for the big brainstorm: you’ve covered what gives you energy and what spends your energy. You’ve brainstormed some ideals for how you’d like to spend your life time percentage-wise. And you’ve listed basic needs – the must have’s – to accommodate in your life. What are some potential pathways to satisfying these factors you’ve identified? This is a brainstorm. Come up with as many solutions as you can. Don’t evaluate them just yet. Go big, don’t talk yourself down. You’re allowed to spin up and out a bit here into dream-world. Get creative with the what-if’s. Enjoy yourself! (This is the part where, in imagining my move to Reno, I identified a way of satisfying housing/being outside as volunteering on a farm in exchange for room/board. I found one such opportunity through the WWOOF program, applied, and ultimately did exactly that for about six months).
  • Pros/Cons – Okay, now evaluate the potential solutions you came up with. See if any could be combined. Are there modifications to make to better satisify identified needs? As you hone in on any that stand out to you, weigh pros and cons, and brainstorm/make adjustments as needed.
  • Steps to Try – This will be different every time. It may be that more research is needed. It might be that you’re ready to make a few phone calls to scope out options. Maybe you need another “session” to fully flesh out and complete your ideas, or maybe there are a few people you need to talk with before making any decisions. These are simply discrete steps you’re committed to taking following your planning/ideation.
  • Evaluation and Adaptation – It’s ongoing. The thing about ~*manifesting*~ and creating change is it’s not just a “life lever” that is pulled and suddenly the train tracks that you’re on visibly shift, with you on them. It will likely feel a lot more subtle than that; a slight change in direction more akin to dipping an oar in water and seeing the boat shift. Same motion forward, slightly different view. Keep taking steps. Keep assessing how it feels. Keep revisiting the vision, gut-checking if it’s still what you want and adapting as necessary.

Part of creating a painting is this whole exciting visioning process of what isn’t (yet) and what could be, followed by an equal parts painful/scary journey through attempting to bring that thing I kinda saw and believed in into being, course-correcting as needed, but above all learning to trust myself along the way. I don’t know it’s done ’til it’s done, and even then sometimes I’m not super sure as I apply my signature on the bottom of the painting. Life goes on, and I get both better through practice, and worse through trial, error, and learning, as I continue.

Sound familiar? Yea. This painful and beautiful process of creativity and adaptation mirrors my life, too.

*Do these steps look familiar? They’re universal. I’ve picked these up and adapted them to my own language/life from a variety of sources, from Permaculture Design (yes, lessons from how to vision your backyard garden fully apply to life, it turns out), various leadership trainings especially but not limited to Training Resources for the Environmental Community (TREC), and organizational/business strategic planning – a process I gladly still walk clients through in my consulting work with AK-based Information Insights. Why not take these steps and apply it to our own lives, when we give our professional days/hours such great care? They work at work. And they have worked amazingly well for me, and for us – Wes/me – too. Maybe it feels formulaic or awkward at first to try these out personally, but I encourage you to try it or something like it just to see.

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