#27 Designing your Life

Notes I gathered from the 5 Steps to Designing the Life You Want | Bill Burnett | TEDxStanford Youtube video

Design thinking:

  • Start with curiosity, lean into what you are curious about
  • Reframe problems 
  • Radical collaboration because the answers are out there in the world with other people. That's where your experience of your life will be.  
  • Mindful of the process because there are times in the design process when you want lots of ideas and there are times in the process where you want to converge, test, prototype some things. 
  • Biased action. No plans for your life will survive first contact with reality as reality often throw at us good things and bad so just have a biased action, try stuff. 

People have dysfunctional beliefs.

Dysfunctional belief 1: What's your passion? 

Less than 20 percent of the people have any one single identifiable passion in their lives. 

Dysfunctional belief 2: You should know where you're going by now. If you don't know, you're too late. 

Dysfunctional belief 3: Are you being the best possible version of you?

"The unattainable best is the enemy of all the available betters because there are many many versions of you that you could play out, all of which would result in a well-designed life." 

Five ideas from Design Thinking.

Idea 1: Connecting the dots.

There's who you are, what you believe and what you do in the world and if you can make a connection between these three things, make that a coherent story, you will experience your life as meaningful. The increase in meaning-making comes from connecting the dots. 

So we can do two things:

1. Write a work view. 

What's your theory of work? Not the job you want but why do you work? What's it for? What's work in service of? 

2. Write your life view. 

What's the meaning of life? What's the big picture? Why are you here? What is your faith or view of the world? 

When you can connect your life view and your work view together, in a coherent way, you start to experience your life as meaningful. 

Idea 2: Gravity problems; they're something you cannot change. 

"You can't solve a problem you're not willing to have. If you have a gravity problem, and you're not willing to work on it, then it's just a circumstance in your life. And the only thing we know to do with gravity problems is to accept."

Design thinking chart: 

Accept-> Empathise -> Define-> Ideate-> Prototype-> Test 

In the design thinking chart, you start with empathy, then you redefine the problem, you come up with lots of ideas, then you prototype and test things... but that only works if it's a problem you are willing to work on. 

Is that a circumstance that you can reframe and work in. Or do you need to do something else? 

Idea 3: How many lives are you?

"If there are multiple parallel universes, and you could live in all and know about your life in each one of these instances, how many lives are you? How many lives would you want?" 

Most people think they have about seven and a half really good lives that they could live. But we only get one. It turns out it's not what you don't choose, it's what you choose in life that makes you happy. 

So Bill and Dave got people to do some design:

Ideate your future but you cannot just ideate one, you have to ideate three. Three 5-year odyssey plans.

Research from School of Education that says if you start with three ideas and you brainstorm from there, you've got a much wider range of ideas, the ideas are more generative and they lead to better solutions to the problem rather than starting with one and then brainstorming forward. 

So the first one (Plan One) is the thing you're doing, whatever your career is, just do it and you're going to do it for five years and it's going to come out great. So Plan One, your life, make it better. Also put in the bucket list stuff, wanting to do a road trip, go to Croatia, do a skydive etc. 

Plan Two: What do you do if things you've got goes away? What If the AI and robots come in to do our work? What's your side hustle? What is something you can do too?

Plan Three: What is your wild-card plan? What would you do if you didn't have to worry about money? You've got enough, not rich but enough. What would you do if you knew no one would laugh? What would you do if you had enough money and you didn't care what people thought? 

A lot of people realise, after coming up with the three plans, that the things that come up in the other plans were things they left behind somehow. In the business of life, they forgot about those things. So they bring them back, and put them in plan one, then they make their lives even better. 

Idea 4: Prototyping

Prototype to:

  • Ask interesting questions (What would it be like if I tried this?)
  • Expose assumptions (Is this even the thing I want or is it just something I remember I wanted when I was 20?)
  • Involve others with your ideas (I've got to go out in the world and do this so I'm going to get others involved in prototyping my life)
  • Sneak up in the future (because I don't know if this is exactly what I want)

Two kinds of life design prototypes 

1. Prototype conversation

All these people out there that are living in my future, today. They're doing what I want to do, today. I can ask them for their story, and if I hear something in their story that rings in me (narrative resonance: when I hear a story that is kind of like my story), I can identify that as a potential way of moving forward.   

2. Prototype experience

Can we go out and try these experiences for ourselves? If you want to be an art therapist, a musician, is there a way to go and try out that experience? 

Idea 5: Choosing well

The Process of Choosing Well

Gather and create options -> Narrow -> Choose -> Let go

Gather: It's not about being lucky. It's about paying attention to what you are doing and keeping your peripheral vision open because it's in your peripheral vision that those interesting opportunities show up. 

Narrow: Too many choices will cause choice overload. Psychologists say we cannot handle more than five to seven choices. No need to be afraid of making the wrong choice because you won't decide how you feel about the decision til the decision is made. 

Choose: You cannot choose well if you choose only from your rational mind. 

"The wisdom of the emotions is a real thing." 

Daniel Goldman, writer and psychologist. 

"There's a part of your brain, the basal ganglia, that summarizes emotional decisions for you. (e.g. I did something, got good emotional response from that: good, check). It summarizes all of the emotions that you have felt and how your decision were valenced positive or negative an emotion. 

There's no connection to that part of the brain to the prefrontal cortex or anything else. It's only connected to your GI tract and your limbic system. So it gives you information through felt sensations, a "gut feeling". Without that, you cannot make good decisions. "

Let go: Synthesizing happiness

"Wanting what you get," not "Getting what you want." 

Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist. 

If you make decisions reversible, your chance of being happy goes down like 60 to 70 percent. So let go and move on, make the decision reversible.  

"It's simple. Get curious. Talk to people. Try stuff. And you will design a well-lived and joyful life."

Bill Burnett 


I learn so much every time I watch this video. Let me know if you've watched it too! 

Stay safe, be well, see you tomorrow!


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