Reverse Engineering Your Life

If you were to take a look at what you wanted your life to look like from the perspective of who you were five years ago, what would you see?  Would you see dreams come true, goals achieved, things basically tracking on schedule?  Or would you see a graveyard of your desires?

It’s always awful when we don’t get what we want, but it’s sometimes even worse when we do.  Mostly this is due to what I call Damage to Desire, which I explain in The Right Question.  But what’s a good way to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

One relatively easy way to turn a dream into a goal and then achieve it is to reverse engineer it.

For the mechanically uninspired, reverse engineering is a complex-sounding term for simply starting at the completion of your goal and working backwards from there to today.  You place a date on a calendar by which you’d like to see it happen, make your best assessment of what’s required to get it, and decide what you need to do on a daily or weekly basis in order to make it happen in that time frame.

Reverse engineering isn’t a new idea, and you’ve likely thought of it yourself if you haven’t actually done it, but when you apply the Right Question to it you see results that you hadn’t even thought of before.

You’ll need to understand the difference between a dream and a goal, though, and that’s something that’s commonly overlooked.  A dream is, for example, “to travel”.  That isn’t a goal, because there’s no destination, no date, nothing measurable and therefore nothing we’d call “achievable” in it.  It’s a great desire, but it isn’t going to light a fire under you to go anywhere.

Once you decide on a destination, though, it becomes a goal, and that means that it now needs you to start setting aside money for it, reading up a bit on what to expect once you’re there, looking at where you can get the best deals for airfare and hotel, and so on.  This kind of practical planning is exactly the sort of thing that makes a dream come true.  You take a dream, turn it into a goal, and then…

…Then, the confusing part begins.

Most of the time we’re looking over our shoulder to see if we’re doing it right.  I know many people who just aren’t sure if they’re on the right track to get where they want to be in life.  Part of the reason for this is simple – we don’t see other people’s journey towards success, we often just see the results.  Nobody really knows what famous celebrities or business leaders were doing in their spare time unless they tell us in their autobiographies, and even then, there’s no guarantee they’re being honest.

One thing successful people all share, however, is the ability to visualize success, to see themselves having already accomplished their goals and living their dream.  And even more importantly, they realized this one cardinal truth:

No one is going to succeed your way except you.  And that’s okay.  And when things didn’t turn out the way they wanted, or the way they intended, they changed their approach in a way that showed that they had learned from that experience.

Think about how many people live in your city, your town.  You share the same coffee shops, hotels, streets, and so on, but none of you get there exactly the same way.  Even in your own minivan, you’re in a different seat than the person next to you.  And success works in exactly the same way.  Nobody can give us your success like you can.

If you lack the ability to really visualize yourself being successful, that’s okay.  Not everybody daydreams with spectral surround sound in full color.  Instead, take pen to paper or grab a coffee at your local hangout and do some actual work.  I don’t mean “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if…”, because that’s daydreaming.  That isn’t work.  I mean, take those daydreams, those nice-to-haves, and put some numbers beside them.  Do a little constructive web surfing instead of just reading the news or trolling for bloggers to annoy with anonymous comments.  Focus on your own life, what you want for you, and imagine where you’ll be if you take this step.

Then, of course, take it.

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