Advice,  Personal Development

Lifestyle Design: Building the Life You Dream of

Defining Our Objectives

So we now have a new model that relies on investing time in our activities in proportion to their impact on our objectives. The next question is of course “what are these objectives?”.[break]
For those who already have some ideas I suggest you write them down, starting your list with the sentence “I want a mix of activities that together:” and you proceed with writing each objective by starting with a verb.[break]
Here are some examples taken from my own list:

“I want a mix of activities that together:
► Include dubbing work
► Allow me to work on the animation series based on the Chronicles of Galadria
► Allow me to meet relevant people for my projects
► Allow me to increase my reputation”

And these are but a few elements among others. The point is that this way of phrasing our list forces us to look at our lives as a whole while remembering they’re composed of several smaller pieces, that it’s not necessary to find a Holy Grail that fulfills all our needs by itself, and finally that no matter whether an activity covers almost nothing and another almost everything (or that an activity takes up a huge amount of time and another one almost none) as long as they all work together and cover all our objectives in the end.[break]
By the way, some objectives (such as dubbing work in my case) also happen to be activities while others are the results of our activities.[break]
Finally remember that your list is never written in stone; your desires and progress will change it. That’s why I strongly advise to go through your objectives at least once a year, to rephrase what has become clearer, remove what’s no longer relevant, add new goals, etc. As far as I’m concerned I do that in January, as the New Year begins.

Remember to list what you truly want and NOT JUST what you want that seems accessible! Otherwise the whole exercise is pointless since you can only build the life you dream of if you write down these dreams. And as we all know, they are seldom readily accessible…

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Why do we humans tend to dream of what’s far from us? Why don’t we wholeheartedly desire something readily accessible? My answer (and that’s just my opinion) is that our desires exist to help us gain wisdom. And only by targeting what’s far away and then walking toward it can we gain wisdom, by growing, learning and facing the dangers on the way.

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Do note however that the road itself always goes through what’s accessible to us (which expends as we move forward), but the end goal must always be what we truly want. And that is often the reason why many aren’t living the life of their dreams; as children we always dare to aim for the moon, yet somewhere between adolescence and the search of a first job we turn “realists”, which in this context means aiming for what’s relatively easy to get. This usually happens because of a lack of support, our own insecurities or the pressure of external responsibilities, along with all the difficulties that slap us in the face and seem to close the door leading to our dreams. And so we fall back to known and vetted processes or reasonable goals, and we give up on our Path.

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Do not make that mistake! If you don’t know how to reach your goals, write them down anyway (I’ll deal with this in the next part). If you can’t work on carrying out your objectives as you intended, write them down anyway and keep them in mind while waiting for an opportunity to resume where you had stopped or to take another way there! In short: don’t give up on an idea even if you can’t act on it yet.

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What to Do When Our Objectives Aren’t Clear?

The previous part is great but only if you have something to write down! And for some of us this is precisely the whole problem: what do we want in life? Throughout the years I found three different answers to the issue of defining one’s life goals.

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A. Listing Your Objectives Isn’t a Necessity (at least not for a while)

This may seem counter-intuitive (and is clearly in the opposite direction of what we can read and hear in the fields of leadership, strategy, personal development, etc.), and yet that’s exactly what I understood in 2019. As most of my objectives and my whole lifestyle collapsed in spring, I remember I went camping with a friend and I told him I now found myself at a crossroad with a ridiculous number of paths opening up before me. Yet I was unable to know which one to pick since I no longer knew where I wanted to go. I had all but erased my list of objectives and I was just making sure my company was running well to guarantee an income, while taking care of my association since it allowed me to meet people, helped me to feel good and I just decently couldn’t dump them all of a sudden.[break]
If we are to believe what we’re constantly told, this situation shouldn’t have led me anywhere (at least not until I was able to sit down and clarify my goals again). Yet without a list of goals, I still ended up starting a new life in Japan about 10 months later, after spending the autumn of 2019 travelling between North America, Japan, my hometown in France, and crossing Europe by car from Sweden to France and back while visiting acquaintances on the way.[break]
Here’s another example: I never consciously searched for the model introduced in the previous chapter. If you watch the TEDx Talk you’ll understand that I simply followed what appealed to me, and it’s only when I stopped in the spring of 2018 and looked back at what this had led me to create that I suddenly realized I had found this new Lifestyle Design model that suited me (while not even knowing I was looking for one! I was far too busy trying to find the ONE activity that would cover all my goals). To better understand what I’m talking about think of a LEGO kit you’re building up by following each step of the manual but without knowing what the end result will look like, until it’s complete.[break]
Indeed, even if our mind is unable to list what we want, our emotions know. So this is neither about standing there twiddling your thumbs nor forcing yourself to write something down; this is about listening to our desires. Back to my case and the months before my move to Japan: that period was like a treasure hunt, with a step-by-step discovery of what I wanted. First to leave my apartment to go visit my friends in the north of Sweden. From there the need to go back to my hometown but also to visit old friends, and after contacting them it became obvious my path would lead me to North America. While I was finalizing this trip I felt the need to go back to see the people I had met in spring in Japan, to check whether life there would be an option. And then the opportunity to give a TEDx Talk showed up, which fitted perfectly between these two majors trips and gave me the perfect excuse for a road trip through Europe (to visit old friends along with family members and even business contacts). [break]
It’s only when coming back from Japan that I went back to the “traditional” way of doing things; at this point I was sure I wanted to move there and so I was able to add this to my list of objectives and carry out the necessary preparations in January and February (while balancing my time with the other activities of my puzzle of course). However as I wrote earlier when discussing the origin of this Lifestyle Design model, moving back to a “traditional” process isn’t mandatory to reach one’s objectives.[break]
And so the lists of objectives we create are but the conscious formulation of our desires and emotions, using words. This conclusion is so incredibly important that I’m going to repeat it:

Our lists of objectives are but the conscious and structured formulation of our desires.

This means we don’t choose them – we simply listen to our heart. And it’s not because everything is confused in our head and that we are unable to recognize our desires that they are gone. We simply end up blindly following the steps to take (these irrepressible urges to do X). Sometimes we understand along the way where we’re in fact headed (and we move back to a standard list of objectives to work on), while other times we have to actually reach our destination before understanding what we were trying to achieve.[break]
Being able to write a list of objectives will of course greatly help in clarifying what we want (both to ourselves and to the outside world), to structure and evaluate the options coming our way, and it simplifies the creation of the puzzle that is at the core of the model I introduced in the previous chapter (because it’s much easier to understand the use of our activities once the objectives are clear). So the point is to keep your eyes open to try to guess where you’re going while remembering to never lock yourself in your list of goals and not to panic if it’s empty; you heart knows where you’re headed.[break]
For someone such as myself, who had always perceived life as something he had to define and implement and that just wouldn’t go the way he wanted without intervention, this realization was tremendously important and liberating.

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B. Using Visualization

So we can find our objectives while walking our path or even after actually reaching them. It’s perhaps harder than being able to list them first and certainly makes creating our puzzle more difficult (as we’ll discuss in the next chapter). Yet it does not put into question our ability to reach them, and thus to create the life we dream of.[break]
However before understating this I had found a method that helped me discover more or less what I was longing for: visualization. The concept is rather simple: take the time to imagine and describe with a couple of sentences some scenes you’d like to live. Feasibility is irrelevant; just let your imagination work. Use music if it helps you dream. Think about trips, business activities, people to meet, things you could experience/create/have, the person you’d like to be in various situations, etc. And don’t forget to briefly describe all this.[break]
Next, once you ran out of inspiration, go through your notes and gather together the ones that look similar to extract the main themes. My experience tells me that most of what we imagine actually revolves around a few main ideas. For instance when I did this exercise I visualized several scenes that all revolved around a variety of activities and several others around the image of a family and a stable base. So although each scene was indeed unique, two of the recurring themes were obvious: I was looking for a life based on multiple activities combined with a home I could leave from and go back to.[break]
Once this is done, separate the main themes between what you’re currently looking for and what’s longer term. Then reformulate the current themes to turn them into a list of objectives to reach.[break]
Note by the way that it’s perfectly fine to list only what you know of a goal, even if you can’t clearly define it or summarize it into a single sentence. You can even add the questions you have or what’s uncertain, and you’ll complete/refine as time passes and you find answers. For instance I used to have an objective called “lifestyle” that included the need to travel and to have varied activities, while also indicating that I couldn’t clearly define “travels”: frequency? Length? With whom? For what purpose? Living abroad, tourist trips and business trips were three potential options (among others) that fitted the description but at the time I couldn’t decide what I was truly after.

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C. Starting with What Is Not Working

Here’s one last method I can offer, which proved especially useful to me at a time when I was lost and angry against many things. I hope it’ll suit those who don’t have enough inner peace to visualize positive things about their future or to move blindly while waiting for their objectives to become clearer. [break]
Take a sheet of paper and a pen and give free rein to your frustration, anger, despair and so on, by writing down everything that just isn’t working. Feel free to complain, to talk about the people annoying you, about desires that seem unreachable, the failures that pile up and the dead-ends you find yourself in, etc.[break]
First of all, this will help you vent out all this negativity rather than keeping it inside or throwing it out onto someone else. And yes, I do advise the use of pen & paper over computers because I found that the wrist movement, the possibility to draw, strike out and so on, along with the fact everything is then written on paper and cannot be erased, helped a lot in the process.[break]
Then, a while later, once you’ve calmed down, go through your notes and try to extract the main themes: do you often talk about a certain person or problematic situation? Do you constantly picture a future without X? Do you doubt your skills? Etc. That will give you a pretty good image of what you’re lacking, what’s hurting you, and through this an idea of what you’re actually longing for.[break]
For you should always phrase your objectives as something you want, and not something to avoid. So this exercise aims at helping us figuring out wat we want to do, be, experiment and so on, by looking first as the negative emotional impact of a lack of these things. However at no point should you stop the process right after writing the list of what’s not working.

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The Objective We (almost) All Have in Common

So you’ve listed your objective following the “I want a mix of activities that together:” structure, or you intend to use one or more of the methods highlighted above to move on with no clear goals. Unfortunately I won’t be of much more help on this topic since everyone’s objectives are personal and unique, EXCEPT one of them that anyone living in a consumption-based society will have in common. Yep, you guessed it, I’m talking about the sinews of war: generating an income. And because this is common to most of us I’m able to share a couple of tips on the matter.

I am aware of various attempts of alternative lifestyles that aren’t based on stable money-making as their foundation, but I have unfortunately no experience in this field. And since I only wish to discuss what I experience or have been through (which always included an income), I won’t dwell on these alternatives. However I’d love to talk about them with people who chose that path! So feel free to drop a comment or to contact me if this is your case!

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A. Steps to Define the Income Level to Target

I’ve broken down the process of defining an income into four major steps:

1/ Start by calculating the minimum income for survival. As long as you haven’t reached it, anything else is of little importance since you cannot work on other objectives without a stable and high-enough income on which to build.

To calculate it you just have to estimate your absolute minimum expenses: food, clothes, accommodation, transport perhaps, etc.

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2/ Once you’re earning more than this minimum income you get to step 2. As an employee this will probably happen as soon as you find a job (your main issues will likely be related to your free time instead, but we’ll get back to this) while as a business owner you may have to work actively on increasing your income.

Either way, it’s highly unlikely that the activity(ies) generating that income will also cover all other objectives. So once you’re above survival level, it’s time to add to your life the other activities that cover your remaining goals. And that’s how you’ll create your personal puzzle.

As long as you have free time available you can decide to invest it in these additional activities or in increasing the time spent generating your income in order to keep it above the minimum. However if you end up falling below that minimum or if you don’t manage to add all necessary activities without crossing the threshold (which is essentially the same thing), then you’re going to have to adjust the activities of your puzzle (which usually means changing them as most are much too rigid to be modified). To do so, you basically have two options, which may or may not be combined together:

► Increasing the efficiency of your activities, which means to reach the same results by investing less time.
For instance in the case of income generation, that would mean increasing the hourly income, which translates into less time needed to get the same amount of money, and thus additional free time for other activities and other objectives, or to generate more money.

► Increasing the reach of your activities, which means covering more objectives with less activities.
For instance in the case of relationships, that could mean joining groups and events that allow you to meet both potential friends and love interests, rather than having separate activities for each. Which in turns free up some time for other activities and objectives.

By the way you’ll notice that certain activities you add to your puzzle at this point have a financial cost that you’ll have to cover, on top of the minimum expenses. So at this stage, your income must cover your puzzle as a whole and not just the minimum for survival.

I do advise to create our puzzle as soon as the minimum income is reached rather than waiting for a more comfortable level because 1/we can’t tell how long it’ll take and therefore how long we’ll have to put the rest of our life “on hold”, and 2/the activities added impact the options available to generate a more comfortable income level by adding restrictions. So reaching that increased income then happens within the framework of a puzzle that works (meaning a life we enjoy), which means the choices we’ll have and their consequences are clear (basically there are criteria for our search).

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On the other hand, starting by reaching a comfortable income without taking our other activities into account (which is what usually happens when an employee finds her first job or moves to a new city/country and thus changes her life rhythm) will tend to have us try to squeeze everything else on whatever free time is left, which isn’t always possible (basically money-making activities end up defining the criteria of our other activities). Besides it’s usually easier to adjust non-money making activities in our puzzle to accommodate changes in how we generate an income, than the other way around.

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3/ You now have your first puzzle: all the activities are here and the income generated is equal or above what’s needed to sustain them. The next step is to calculate the income level of a “typical life” by estimating your expenses over 6 months or one year, based on the life you’d like to live (beyond that the exercise is too difficult and too theoretical, although you should definitely take into account future long-term objectives such as purchasing an accommodation). For instance we could include the activities of future objectives that aren’t yet part of our puzzle but will have a cost, more expensive activities we’d like to add because they’re more effective at letting us reach a given goal, activities to relax (travels, outings…).

Trying to imagine a « typical » life is always tricky; we either end up censoring ourselves by saying “I’ll never be able to afford this anyway”, or we decide that anything is possible and therefore go crazy will luxurious hotels, sports cars, giant houses, travels all across the globe, etc.

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However when I did this exercise myself I realized these excesses just didn’t make sense. Not because I didn’t allow myself to think about them, but because I simply didn’t see their use (think about traveling for instance; it takes time and beyond a certain point I have more interesting things to do). Besides, if you do this after your initial puzzle is set up (as advised) then your desires will be very specific and truly connected to what you want, rather than what’s supposed to be desirable, since by that time you’ll already be living a fulfilling life (based on activities leading to your goals). Before that stage (may it be when you’re trying to reach the minimum income for survival or adding various activities to get them to work together) there are too many factors influencing our aspirations and preventing us from truly imagining the life we want.

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I can’t tell whether everyone will be in a similar situation so feel free to share your feedback if you give this method a shot. Yet I seem to remember hearing that there was some amount of money (around 5000€/month in a developed country I think) that was considered on average the perfect balance to live the life of our choosing without wastes.

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This, by the way, does bring up a theory stating that most purchases made with high incomes are either useless (to relieve boredom, compensate for insecurities…), or are part of a process to experiment, along the lines of “that sounds fun, why not!” (who doesn’t want to spend the night in a luxurious hotel? Taste an amazing meal? Drive a sports car? Etc.), rather than being part of the life of our dreams. As a matter of fact I’d be ready to bet that what most people actually dream of when they think that having a lot of money would change their life is the free time they associate with this, and the possibility to spend it on whatever they want. Good news; that’s what this article is about!

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4/ Once you’ve calculated that new amount then if you’ve already reached it good for you; you can simply keep it in a corner of your mind as a reference for the day when you’ll have to change your activities, because this tells you the part of your income that can be reduced to free up some time without truly impacting what matters to you. Otherwise you’re going to have to modify your puzzle (more or less in depth) to get there, and to do so you have the same options as in step 2.

Either way we should NEVER set a high limit to the income level targeted (we can’t have too much money!). Instead it’s the moment time spent on money-making activities clashes with time spent on other activities that indicates we’ve reached the upper limit. We then simply have to check how much we’re earning and anything above the “typical life” level is a bonus!

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B. The Need for “Core” Activities

Up until now we’ve only discussed the amount of money to generate and the ability to combine every activity into a working puzzle. And that’s actually the most important to live the life we dream of.[break]
However the objective of income creation is a little different from the others because it is the only one that cannot be compressed. Let me explain: other goals can be ignored, modified or even removed, but there will always be the need to generate at the very least the minimum income for survival. Which means all related activities will always be a part of our life.[break]
This has two major consequences: having a reliable income is key to building one’s life (so the more secure it is, the better), and having a flexible income allows to freely form our puzzle instead of dragging along a behemoth that limits our options for everything else (so the least restrictions it forces on us in terms of location and schedule, the better).[break]
Some will solve this conundrum by making sure their profile is very attractive to recruiters. That way even if they lose their job (and therefore their income), they can easily find another one (security). And if they change their life to the point that their schedule and workplace no longer fit, they can find a new job that better suit their new criteria (flexibility). Others are able to start various companies to get a similar effect, and there are certainly other solutions yet.[break]
As far as I’m concerned I use activities I call “core” (because they are at the core of my puzzle and ensure its existence). These are extremely flexible in terms of schedule and location and generate an income (and if that’s the only thing they do it’s not a problem). So no matter what impact on my schedule and location potential changes to my puzzle have (which includes removing everything but money-making activities), these activities and the income they generate won’t budge. I don’t need to constantly look for new money-making activities to support other modifications in my puzzle. Moreover, they contribute to securing my finances by multiplying my income sources since they can easily be combined among themselves and/or with other, more restrictive money-making activities (but these, however, would probably disappear in case of major changes in my puzzle).[break]
When it comes to the amount of money to generate, to be truly effective these core activities should at least amount to the minimum income for survival. Even better if we can go up to the “typical life” income or more. But just a portion of it is better than nothing. And the more stable our life is, the lower that percentage can be (since other, more restrictive activities that make up the rest of the total income don’t need to be changed). On the other hand the more chaotic our life, the higher the percentage (because the less flexible activities will probably disappear).

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If this all sounds too theoretical, let’s have a look at my current structure: my core activities are my voice over and translation work and I set them up so as to be able to work on these jobs from anywhere, at any time. So even when I left Sweden to go to Japan (and therefore erased most of my activities, on top of deeply modifying my objectives), my income – one of the few objectives that never changes – was guaranteed. Sometimes I add new money-making activities on top of these, but they are very location-dependent and/or have a fixed schedule. I may do so simply to increase my income, or because they bring me something else (relevant contacts for instance). However because my core activities generate an income that can support my puzzle (and I’m working hard to bring that income up to the “typical life” level!), I can organize my life however I want.

Whoever is interested in Lifestyle Design and especially issues related to money-making activities must read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss. The author shares great examples of core activities and goes even one step further by focusing on reducing the amount of time spent on such activities: advice in time management and personal efficiency along with business model suggestions. The textbook case of this philosophy being of course passive income such as royalties – no restrictions in terms of location or schedule and time to invest in such activities virtually inexistent.

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Do note however that reducing the time invested in a core activity as much as possible (as the book advocates) only makes sense if the activity in question ONLY generates an income (which also happens to be the kind of activity that book introduces). If, on the other hand, it covers other objectives as well (or happens to be an objective itself, such as dubbing for me) then it’s the level of interest in this activity and the rest of the puzzle that will define the amount of time to invest in it.

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Therefore I limit myself to advising everyone to have at least one core activity in their puzzle, for the security and flexibility it brings. It’s up to you to decide how much time to invest in it.

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