In her book The Wisdom of Anxiety, Sheryl Paul writes that we must recognize that anxiety is part of the design of life.
This sparked my thinking about the concept of “lifestyle design” and the push among lifestyle coaches to design our ideal lives.
My response to this concept of lifestyle design is a YES, AND…
Setting a Compelling Future
YES. Setting a vision for our lives gives us something to aspire to and aim for. A compelling future drives us forward and gives us purpose.
Tony Robbins draws a contrast between President Kennedy’s proclamation that we would put a man on the moon and our current national purpose to end COVID so we can “get back to normal.”
When the goal is simply to get back to normal is it any wonder that Americans are depressed? When was the last time we rallied behind an common cause like putting a man on the moon?
On a personal level, too, a strong mission and vision can create the type of compelling future that can drive us forward.
Living for the Future
The concept of focusing on attaining an “ideal life” also feels inherently a form of not accepting the life we actually have.
Each time we set a vision for the future we are implicitly saying
this is what will make me happy. If I can create this vision I will have arrived.
In setting our sites on this future vision we create a gap between where we are and where we want to be. That gap creates our suffering, because we put our happiness around the corner. Often we create another vision, and another gap, before we even get to the finish line of the first.
Also, sometimes we get there and find that the thing we thought would make us happy didn’t really fulfill that promise. Science has shown we are terrible predictors of our own happiness.
As a result, we are always living for the future, striving for that next ideal, the next level. And because we’re always striving to level-up we don’t accept where we are.
We believe that happiness is always around the next corner. And our anxiety comes from the voice deep within that asks:
What if it’s not? What if this doesn’t work? What if my vision is wrong? What if what I think will make me happy doesn’t actually make me happy? What if I’m on the wrong path?
This is a horrible way to live. The anxiety inherent in closing the gap ends up stifling our life.
What Makes You Feel Alive?
The thought that occurred to me was to consider that maybe “lifestyle design” is the wrong phrase. Maybe we shouldn’t be aiming to up-level or dream big or strive to reach that mythical place around the next corner where happiness resides.
Perhaps, paradoxically, we will find what we are seeking when we stop trying to design a life we think we want or we think will make us happy and start living the life that’s here.
If we can accept the life we have now, and truly live in the present, we might eliminate much of our anxiety about the future, about whether what we are doing today will “work” or yield results.
Instead of closing the gap, perhaps we need to eliminate the gap and live our way into the future.
One of my teachers said he asks himself a simple question each day:
What makes me feel alive?
This feels like a much more simple way to arrive at meaning and fulfillment, to avoid the fate of suffering and anxiety that plagues the gap.
When we’re living for the promise of tomorrow we are missing the life that’s right here, and then we’re not really living at all.
Setting the Course + Living the Now
As I said, I believe this is a yes, and. We need to set a compelling future and we must remember that the future is an illusion. There’s no guarantee of a tomorrow.
What makes me feel alive?
Maybe that is also our divine purpose: to be truly alive. Not living for the moment around the corner, but alive in this moment.