January 25, 2024

A Practice: Finding Purpose by Imagining the Future and Excavating the Past

This practice is taken from an interview with Dr. Belle Liang and is adapted from her book, How to Navigate Life.

Research shows there are many benefits to envisioning the future. As we envision the future, it is also helpful to reflect on the influences of our perception of what a successful future looks like. As we do this, we can formulate our individual sense of success, distinct from societal definitions and external influences.

  • Gather a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Take five minutes and write without stopping. Allow your guiding question to be, “In an ideal world, what does success look like for me?” This may include certain strengths you have or ways that you would like to impact the world.
  • Next, look at what you’ve written and pick out four or five phrases that are especially meaningful to you. If it feels helpful, share what you have envisioned with a trusted person.
  • Now that you have a vision for your future picture of success, let’s reflect on the past and what has informed your ideas around success. What are some formative experiences have you had? What relationships have been especially meaningful to you and may have given you an ideal of success to aspire to? What impact did they have on you? These may be positive and/or negative experiences. Journal about this for five minutes.
  • Choose one experience to dig deeper into. Did this relationship or experience cause you to think differently about yourself or the world? Did it cause you to trust more or trust less? Did it cause you to commit an action that altered the course of your life?
  • From these reflections, craft a story. 
    • The basics: Who, when, what, where. 
    • The movement: What happened to cause the actions or experience to take place (by either yourself or another person)?
    • The impact: How did this impact you?
    • The success revealed: How did this experience alter your definition of success? 

Taking away the elements of societal pressures and outside expectations allows us to understand success on our own terms, which often looks very different from society’s terms. Reflecting on these formative experiences can help us understand what brought us to this perception of success.

This practice is adapted from work by Belle Liang discussed in How to Navigate Life.


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