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    Introducing the Life Design Process: An Exercise in Envisioning Creating Your Ideal Life

    Many of us suffer from not understanding what we truly want in life, while many others know what they want but aren’t sure how to make their desires reality.

    Understanding what you want – what you truly want, that thing that if you finally got it would leave you satisfied and happy indefinitely and beyond measure – is tough to pin down. 

    With the constant growth we experience and the simultaneously influential yet changing environments we live in, it can be challenging to discern what we each genuinely need compared to what external influences push us to feel we need and desire in life.

    Identifying deep-seated, unchanging desires and needs is a first, valuable step to satisfying those needs and sculpting the most satisfying life imaginable.

    This life design exercise, performed over and over through the months and years, and the follow-on process of creating your guide to a happy life will clarify the things, people, and places that motivate and drive you – which ultimately are your most essential needs and desires.

    This process will reveal insights into who you are, what you need and desire, and the state of your life as a whole at this moment. Getting this inside view of your life but from an outsider’s perspective (thanks to our approach) will allow you to give yourself prudent advice and instructions for the future, packaged in a way you can reference back to when you feel lost, confused, or depleted.

    At times in the future, when you’re confused and in need of support or guidance, you’ll be able to come  back to this guide that you will have written – filled with answers, advice, and recommendations written for “future you.”

    You know more about yourself, your actions, emotions, and your needs than any other person on the planet. So who better to help you understand your ideal life and how to get there than you?

    In this book, we will walk you through the intimate knowledge you have about yourself but may not realize and use that knowledge to guide you to the life that’s right for you.

    Welcome to the process of writing a little guide to your happy life.

    Chapter 1: Introduction to Life Design: An Exercise in Creating Your Ideal Life

    This book is designed to help you understand what you want in life, find your purpose, and create a plan to sculpt your current life into the ideal life you have been dreaming of.  This process will guide you in building a life around the things that drive you, motivate you and leave you feeling fulfilled.

    Welcome to the Life Design Exercise – A Process for Designing Your Ideal Life

    Have you ever had a period in your life where you continually felt drained or lost as you asked yourself, “what am I doing here?” while you tried to figure out what exactly depleted you and where the fulfillment and joy in your life went?

    Better yet, have you been in a position where you felt like you had everything you could think to ask for, but it just felt like something was missing? I guarantee you’re not the only one who has experienced this.

    Or are you at a pivotal time in your life, and feel like the tides of life are pushing you forward, but you’re unsure if the direction of the waves is the best direction for you? If only a crystal ball existed, that could point out the perfect choice and path to walk down for your long-term happiness and fulfillment.

    You may have a great life, a nearly perfect life, but it just might not be perfect for you (at this moment). So, what’s the answer? You determine what drives and motivates you and re-design your life around those things. You build your ideal life around the relationships, activities, places, and anything else that leaves you feeling fulfilled, satisfied, motivated, eager for more, and driven. You design a life around whatever moves you.

    But, how do you re-design a life? You already have so much to be thankful for, so, how do you figure out what is missing that (potentially) satisfies and motivates you?

    You use the Life Design Exercise.

    So, what is the “Life Design Exercise?” How does this help in creating your ideal life? 


    The Life Design Exercise is a structured exercise with three objectives.

    Objective 1: Guide you through understanding your passions, what drives you, what motivates you, and what you want and need from life in a timeless sense, regardless of which phase of life you’re in

    Objective 2: Craft a design of what your ideal life would look like

    Objective 3: Create an achievable plan to start making your perfect life a reality

    The key to achieving a fulfilling life is understanding what consistently motivates and drives you.


    Eleven years ago, I had just returned from a military deployment to the Middle East. It was my 4th combat tour to the Middle East in 4 years, and I planned it to be my last. Despite all I accomplished over the previous 4 years, the constant coming and going left me disconnected from the real world and confused about possibilities for my future. I was even more confused about what I wanted my future to be and became fixated on finding purpose in life that at least matched the purpose I felt during military service.

    Then, a friend recommended a fantastic book: The Passion Test. The book was a great exercise in defining and understanding what made me passionate, finding my purpose in life, and understanding what (based on who I was at that point) I wanted my life to be.

    As we define our unchanging purposes, objectives, and desires, we become more grounded and consistent, creating a positive feedback loop of discovery, understanding, applying the knowledge to pursue our goals, and repeating.

    The Passion Test was an excellent book to spark the process of understanding my desires and considering alternate options for my purpose in life, but something more is required to make an ideal life a reality. To make our ideal life a reality, we need action. Decisive action.

    The small but significant problem with that book (for me) was that I had been in such “non-traditional environments,” the structured confines of the military, combat zones, and the homogenous company of 18 to 22 year old men for so long at a young age (19-23) that I couldn’t just think up a dream life and expect it to be fulfilling, healthy, and balanced in the long term. In addition, my breadth of experience (mostly life as a Marine) and knowledge (just what I’d studied in a few years at university and absorbed by osmosis from my military peers) made it tough to dream up the ideal life for the “timeless me” – driven and calm, young and old, fearless and afraid. Plus, I was in a state of active and rapid change – so my “ideal life” from my perspective at the time felt like a moving, evolving target.

    Additionally, it felt less than optimal to design a view of the perfect life, a life of contentment and happiness, without a straightforward way to make it a reality.  A plan.  A guide.

    So, I went back to the drawing board and created an process, an exercise, for myself that elicited my overlooked passions, that encouraged considering all the “categories of life” that we need to stay balanced but I was unaware of when I started, and that would create a viable plan with small steps for making this “ideal life” a reality. 

    The resulting process was exactly what I needed.

    The resulting process was this Life Design Exercise.

    For the last 15 years, I’ve done this exercise every 6 months in the same leather-bound journal, and I couldn’t have paid for better results.

    I’ve been to over 50 countries, speak a few languages, have been an advisor to Generals, Sheiks, and CEOs. I’ve gained a decent, worldly education.  I currently live as a digital nomad with no ropes or restrictions (just as I’ve always wanted) and money is no longer an issue. I’ve hiked through everywhere from Patagonia to the Himalayas, ridden a motorcycle down the Ho-Chi Minh trail, cuddled up with penguins, and swam with sharks and wild sea lions. These dreams come true wouldn’t necessarily be fulfilling or worthwhile experiences to most…but they absolutely were (and are) to me. Each experience started as a statement about my desires during my Life Design Exercise – in that old leather-bound notebook, about what drives me in life.

    The only way I realized these desires and created a life that makes them possible was to be clear about what I wanted and needed in my life, then find a path to get to that new, ideal life.

    I say this to express that it’s a clear possibility to make your ideal life a reality no matter where you start. So if you don’t know where to start, then start here.

    Even further, the aggregate benefit of the results of all of the exercises was exponentially more beneficial as the results of each iteration of this exercise stacked on the last to accidentally become a personalized guide for living.

    Each iteration of the Life Design Exercise accurately covered the ideas, desires, and feelings of purpose deep within me, while revealing the growth, learning, and maturity I had gained in the previous 6 months (since the last results). But the undeniable truth is I was constantly changing and growing – as were my desires, beliefs, and goals. So likewise, we, and our perceptions, are continually evolving. Because of this fact the results from each Life Design Exercise represented me and my experiences 100%  for the preceding period and at that moment. But, no single iteration of this exercise 100% accurately represented my beliefs and desires throughout my life.

    However, every one of those sets of results from doing this exercise still held a grain of truth to recognize, about who I was, about my deep unchanging beliefs, and about my deep, constant desires. After looking at the results from my Life Design Exercise over the years, it became clear which themes (for my passions and values) had been consistent over those years, and which were fleeting. It became clear which desires remained as I passed through phases of life. And it became clear which beliefs, around morals and purposes, remained as my social circle and life circumstances evolved.

    As I saw recurring proof of my specific, deep-seated desires and beliefs, I received more and more confirmation of what I needed to focus on to be who, what, and where I wanted to be in life.

    I had accidentally created a guide to my happiest life, 100% written by me.

    I realized I wasn’t just taking bi-annual tests to discover my passions. I was actively writing a manual for creating the life I wanted.  I was writing a guide for identifying and making real the latent desires I had that remained unchanged for years.  I was writing a guide for building a life that served my values, goals, and standards that didn’t and likely wouldn’t change.  Having this level of clarity on the best direction to move toward, based on who I am, allowed me to step up my game.

    From then on out, after completing every Life Design Exercise I reviewed the results for that iteration, covering the last 6 months. I then reviewed the results and notes, the summaries, and the “instructions and advice” I’d written for myself from every other time I’d gone through the exercise. 

    After reviewing the results of the exercise, covering the last 6 months, on all the tests before, I then again wrote clear instructions and advice for myself for the next 6 months. I wrote the pitfalls to be aware of that, based on the patterns I saw in my life, I knew I was vulnerable to as well as the tips on how to handle them when they come up. I wrote the reminders of rewards I should give myself and the coming milestones I should celebrate. And I wrote reminders of the things to stay focused on and fixate my vision on that I knew I would respond to, with the help of a subtle reminder.

    Then, I actively used this “guide.”

    Anytime I stumbled in life or questioned myself, I looked back at this guide for direction and to get back in touch with the “timeless version of me.”

    Anytime I questioned why I was doing what I was doing, I looked back at this guide to check that my actions were aligned with my unchanging desires, purpose, and vision.

    Anytime anyone tried to discourage me, by forcing their perception of me and their perception of what my purpose should be on me, I returned to this guide…

    …written by me.

    The timeless version of me, recorded in that guide encouragingly, became my biggest supporter and source of motivation between those 6-month periods.

    By examining your recorded thoughts, desires, ideas, and values over years, you can get a clearer view of the most consistent aspects of you

    The Life Design Exercise and the tiny, living guide it created, have done wonders for me, from the self-knowledge I’ve gained to the resulting outcomes I’ve made in my life. I love that you are giving this exercise a try, because I’m just an average Joe. I know your results will be just as great as mine, if not greater.

    Chapter 2: Uncovering the Desires, Needs, and Values of the Unchanging Version of You

    Desires and needs can be fleeting, triggered, and influenced by the changing circumstances and shifting social circles around us. As a result, it can be risky to invest valuable time, energy, and resources in something as a priority when that thing could be a very temporary element of your life. Building a system to support that potentially fleeting desire in your life indefinitely is arguably a waste of resources when you have other deep-seated needs. Instead, it is better to prioritize the wants that come from the core of you, connected to the needs of the relatively slow-changing parts of you.

    These deep-seated desires and needs will (likely) be with you for life. Because of this, these constant needs and wants are worth building your life around, as this approach is more likely to lead to lifelong satisfaction, instead of fleeting and temporary pleasure.

    But how do you discern which needs and desires are deep-seated and as close to permanent as possible compared to those temporary urges that relate more to your current phase of life, temporary environments, and temporary circumstances instead of the core of you?

    The answer: You look for the needs and desires that come up consistently, over and over through time creating observable patterns.

    The only way to identify (and easiest way to satisfy) the unchanging you, and your stable needs and desires is to watch and observe. Take note of that which does not change. This idea, defining and understanding the unchanging you and your constant wants and needs. 

    That clear, genuine view of you and your needs is what we will use to create your personalized “Little Guide” to building a happy, contentment-filled life.

    First, we perform the Life Design Exercise once to take a strategic approach to helping you identify what your needs and desires are right now. Then, we rank the resulting statements about your ideal life, statements that declare the things you need and desire that motivate and fuel you filling you with drive and happiness. Those statements will identify the most critical needs and desires in your life, to give you a snapshot of your needs and wants in your ideal life, prioritized by importance to you.

    Then, we take the test every 3 to 6 months to identify your prioritized “drivers” in life and note potential advice and instructions for future you over the coming 6 months, based on what you’ve learned in the last 6 months and beyond

    After taking doing the Life Design Exercise a few times, we’ll be able to note the drivers – motivations, needs, and desires – that are constantly present and constantly a priority in your life. We then have the first and foundational needs and desires to build your life around – needs and desires that are so constant that creating a system to satisfy them would lead to satisfaction indefinitely and an ideal life built around the consistent part of you.

    For example, a deep-seated desire to experience foreign cultures, exquisite foods, art, and culture may be satisfied by a long-term objective of moving to a hipster neighborhood in Lisbon, Portugal, for food, music, and Portuguese culture.

    A deep-seated desire to spend your days expressing yourself through paint and art may be satisfied by a long-term objective to establish passive income streams that support that lifestyle.

    This exercise will look at your desires over time to understand your changing and constant needs and wishes. Then, we’ll piece those bits together to form a picture of your ideal life and identify small, practical, possible actions to guide you from your current life to the ideal one – designed by you.

    The result will be a little living guide to a happy life, written by you.

    Chapter 3: An Overview of the Life Design Exercise

    This Life Design Exercise is a simple process divided into 5 steps that we’ll walk through together.

    Step 1: Define your passions and what drives you (aka “drivers), finding your purpose in life, and checking for balance across your life

    Step 2: Check for balance in your list of drivers and how they cover the essential areas of life.

    Step 3: Prioritize your drivers, passions, and motivations

    Step 4: Create a plan for making your ideal life a reality and building your life around what drives you

    Step 5: Record your results in an easy to reference way, checking back routinely, and redoing the Life Design Exercise twice each year

    You should redo the exercise every 6 months, then record the results, notes, and instructions to yourself to reference back to between iterations.

    Let’s review the steps of the Life Design Exercise in a little more detail…

    Step 1: Define your desires and what drives you

    First, you’ll sit down and spend some time brainstorming statements that describe your ideal life and the needs and desires fulfilled in it. This book and the Life Design process will guide you through examining what relationships, activities, places, and things leave you feeling the most fulfilled and rejuvenated in your life. Sifting through ideas of what motivates, drives, and inspires you to move forward is the first step to finding what is truly worth pursuing and building your life around.

    Once your list of statements describing fulfillment of your needs and desires in your ideal life is as complete as we can get by writing your thoughts “off the cuff,” you’ll go back over the list to ensure you’ve accounted for all of your desires and needs in life in the following step. 

    In the next step, we’ll check that you have statements that describe your ideal life in all essential categories of life.  From there we’ll add more statements about our ideal life to the essential categories of life missing a statement to ensure your plan, and life guide, covers every essential area of your ideal life.

     By defining your passion and drivers finding your purpose in life, you can focus on “running your own race”, and focus more on the races that truly that matter to you

    Step 2: Check for balance in your list of drivers and how they cover the important areas of life

    In step 2, we’ll review for wants and needs in career, finances, family, love, hobbies, and a few other essential categories of life to ensure you’re building a balanced life. Sometimes, it is human nature to focus on what we want at this moment or what we see lacking right now without accounting for the needs across all areas of our lives and needs in the long term. 

    We’ll do this by taking your list of statements that describe your ideal life and placing each of them into the 10 essential categories when envisioning an ideal life.  This process will allow us to see in which areas of life you are consciously working toward building a fulfilling, satisfying situation, and which aspects of life might be going unconsciously neglected.

    Once we have a complete list, accounting for all areas of a healthy life, we will move to the next step to discover which of these statements (and the underlying elements in your life) are more important to you and worth your time, energy, and resources, and which elements can be consciously de-prioritized in the process of building your ideal life.

    Step 3: Prioritize your desires and the elements of your ideal life

    Last, we’ll ask a few questions about the statements about your ideal life on your list so you can get the clearest possible picture of what your ideal life would be. We’ll also ask the dreaded “why” to ensure you’re designing a life suited to your desires and needs and not one built on unquestioned dogma or the pressures of a system you’re trying to break free of.

    In Gary Keller’s book “The ONE Thing”, he makes an excellent point that we are most likely to succeed when we focus on the one, most important thing in front of us at any moment. In defining and building our ideal life, the same applies.

    To make the objective (making our ideal life our reality) achievable, we need to focus on making your most important passions and drivers a reality first. Still, we can only do this if we know your most important passions.

    In step 3, we will prioritize your desires and the elements of your ideal life according to what makes you feel the most fulfilled and what is most important to you. Then we will take that ranked list of drivers and passions to create a realistic plan in step 4.

    Step 4: Create a short-term plan and guide to achieve your desires, by identifying specific tasks and deciding your first 3 action of focus

    Steps 1, 2, and 3 gave us a very clear, structured look into what makes you feel fulfilled, passionate, motivated, and driven in life and provides excellent personal insight, but we can’t stop there. We need to use these personal insights to create an actionable plan to change your life and craft it around those needs and desires we’ve identified.

    If you can build a life filled with the things that motivate you the most and make you excited to jump out of bed each morning, each day you’ll invest everything you’ve got and get back twice as much of the fulfillment you need…but creating that kind of situation is a huge task. An old friend always repeated the perfect saying for tackling this kind of project…

    How do you eat an elephant?

    One bite at a time.

    We’re going to tackle the task of making your ideal life (on paper) a reality, one bite at a time. Step 4 will guide you through creating tiny, easily achievable tasks for your most important drivers and passions. The achievement of these tiny tasks will give you a boost of motivation, push you closer towards your ideal life, and also help you double-check whether or not you’re as passionate about each driver as you thought.

     If you don’t know where you’re going in life, any road will take you there. If you have an ideal life to make real, a defined path and viable plan are critical to truly changing your life into a fulfilling life that motivates and drives you

    “No man ever steps into the same river twice. For it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.”

    • Heraclitus

    Step 5: Record your results in an easy to reference way, checking back monthly, re-doing the exercise semi- annually

    Finally, in Step 5, we’ll record your insights, drivers, and priority tasks in an organized way that you can come back to and reference whenever you need a reminder of what should matter to you and what you need to focus on in life.

    Essentially, you will have your guide. Routinely, you’ll come back and give your list a look to cross off tasks as you achieve them, pick your new tasks to focus on, and also ponder whether the drivers you listed before are still important to you

    Last, every 6 months after you’ve done the exercise, you’ll pull out your old Life Design Exercise results and redo the exercise again from scratch. Why? Because just as we grow and change, your needs and preferences will too. Redoing this exercise will keep you on track for fulfilling the needs of the the ever-changing you.

    A Review: Why are we doing the Life Design Exercise?

    1. To help you understand what elements of your life are potentially best to focus your time and energy on for a more fulfilling life.
    2. To guide you through envisioning your ideal life around your needs, your desires, and who you are truly meant to be.
    3. Guide you through creating a doable, actionable plan with small, clear steps for how to make your ideal life a reality.
    4. To get you started making your ideal life a reality.
    5. To achieve all of this by using your knowledge of you.

    What Next?

    What’s the next step? Start Step 1 of the Life Design Exercise.

    Chapter 4: Tips for Getting the Most from the Life Design Process

    As we move forward in the exercise, consider these suggestions

    1. Do this exercise alone: Quite often, what we want or need gets overshadowed in our lives or overly influenced by external pressures from work, family, society, and perceived obligations in a way that is less than beneficial. Doing this exercise alone ensures you’ll be able to get to the core of what drives you, and no one else.
    2. Encourage your partner to do this exercise (alone as well) and share the results upon completion: You’ll likely realize things about yourself that you forgot, or possibly never realized…and your partner likely didn’t either. Giving your partner a glimpse into this newly rediscovered “you” can be invaluable for mutual understanding in your relationship.  The process in this exercise will deliver insight on who each of you are, as individuals, as well as what you each want and need from life.
    3. Keep a scratch work notebook: Along the way, you’ll have epiphanies, “aha!” moments, and even questions that won’t be answered at the point you realize them. But this info will be great to refer back to.  Keep an extra notebook to jot down all of the questions, random thoughts, and insights that arise to sift through and analyze them later.
    4. Take note of “AHA!” moments and realizations: These are the realizations that people pay thousands of dollars to therapists and head shrinkers for and are potent indicators of how best to change your life. So, take advantage of learning these valuable pieces of information for free.
    5. Plan on keeping a permanent notebook: At the end of this exercise you’ll have clear statements about your desires, instructions to yourself for the coming months, and your plan in this notebook, as well as the same information from future tests you’ll take. Having all of these notes in one place will give you an interesting view of yourself over time and a unique perspective you won’t get anywhere – all easily accessible in an organized little book.
    6. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t rule out potentially drastic changes: The point of this exercise is to get to your core and build a life on that. You’re lying to yourself if you edit how you express your needs and your desires. Finding your true purpose in life will be impossible if you downplay it or hide. Giving yourself the chance to let things flow out naturally is a major reason for doing this exercise alone.
    7. Note interesting realizations: This may sound repetitive but it is valuable and important. For any “negative” things that come up, such as realizing that something is important to you but neglected in life, or realizing that something in your life is not important to you but still heavily consumes your time, energy, and resources take these as important warnings. Take note of them in your notebook to think on later. You don’t have to solve these issues or root problems now, or even soon.

    However, we want to highlight these misalignments of priority and flow of effort, as these imbalances are possibly the greatest hindrances to you building your ideal life, and also possibly the greatest “waste” of resources in your life. But, that is a question to analyze for another day. For now, make a special note of these realizations that arise.

    Now that we have set the ground rules, let’s start our Life Design Exercise.

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      About A Brother Abroad


      Carlos is a nomad, slow traveler, and writer dedicated to helping others live abroad and travel better by using his 7+ years of experience living abroad and background as a management consultant and financial advisor to help other nomad and expats plot better paths for an international lifestyle. Click here to learn more about Carlos's story.