Let's indulge in a bit of fantasy
This piece is a thought experiment to promote cognitive flexibility and bring your internal motivations into awareness. A 2010 study showed that the anticipation and expectation of a satisfying experience can exceed the actual attainment of it. It's part positive thinking, and part visualization.
So, bear with me as we simulate a bit of amazingness for your life. Suspend disbelief and savour the excitement that comes up with this exercise. Just let any doubt and guilt melt away. Maybe they surface, but let them dissolve into the background as you choose to focus on the positive feelings that arise while you read this.
Imagine if a perfect life were possible.
For now, let's play pretend. Even if the idea seems impossible.
Imagine that somehow, somewhere, some version of you was able to stumble upon or create a perfect life.
Suppose you could define what a perfect life is and then describe it in detail. This hypothetical life would be everything you'd dreamt of and more. You would be happy, free to choose, surrounded by loved ones and good at what you do.
If we could observe this perfect life of yours over a series of days, weeks and months, we would be able to see patterns of behaviour: Where time was spent, what choices were made, what opportunities were declined.
Perhaps if we watched for long enough we could devise a system of advice or a set of rules to be able to live in this way. Maybe we could write a book like "7 Habits for Highly Successful People" but specifically tailored to your version of what a highly successful life was like.
In this book would be a set of rules and guidelines that, if followed, would allow you to replicate that perfect life. Remember, this is fantasy, so all things are within our control, but even where they are not, we could observe this perfect self as they responded to difficulties to provide guidelines through our own challenges.
Imagine this book in your hands right now. A guidebook to make your dream come true.
What colour is it?
How big is it? Is it a paper back? A hardcover with glossy jacket? A weighty textbook?
The font of the title, how does it make you feel?
You flip open to the table of contents.
The chapters are neatly laid out in areas of your life, with sections of step-by-step instructions.
It looks as if this is a complete system, a full set of rules to create your perfect life.
Would you follow a perfect set of rules?
If this set of rules were to be followed in your life exactly as needed to create the ultimate existence, whatever that looks like for you...
Would you do it?
Would you still do it if it was really hard?
Would you even do it if it felt too easy to be true?
Just assuming that there were a way that a system implemented in your life, when followed, produced an optimized, maximized version of happiness and fulfillment.
Such a system would guarantee success and create abundance, and probably love too, right?
A perfect system, designed for you from the heavens (or an infinitely intelligent inter-dimensional species). Looking at all the possibilities and probabilities, this set of rules produces the best outcome.
Would you do it?
Would you follow that system to the word?
To the best of your ability?
Would you willingly surrender all resistance and move into the fear and the difficulties, knowing full well that it was necessary in order to get the best life you could?
There's no way to know for sure what this system is. The book was written in hindsight, remember?
But if you are constantly doing your best to improve, that guarantees you are taking at least some steps towards this life rather than away from it.
We can use this present life to imagine the path towards this perfect life.
- be aware of our choices
- make our best effort for action
- revise our approaches as our understanding of situations improves
- measure outcomes and track efforts
- envision wonderful possibilities
- make behavioural changes that create positive feedback
And that's really all we can hope for. We can try to do our best, and build upon the momentum as we go.
But, this book does not physically exist. No one is able to give you all the answers.
Can a perfect life exist outside of fantasy?
So, can such a life exist?
If you can conceive of the possibility, that conceptualization exists, even if just in your mind.
If you can visualize how it might look in detail, then it can be reality tested through experimentation.
If you can take actions that test your hypotheses in the world, then you will have data to see whether your assumptions are true.
Any life that we can dream of now, could not be that perfect life exactly. We haven't lived it. We don't know all of the challenges and difficulties and changes that are necessary to grow through. But look, there's even a chapter titled "How to face your hardest moments".
If you wait around for outside saviours you're giving up your freedom.
If you wait for Heaven to give you a sign, or for the aliens to show up and make everyone enlightened, you might end up waiting a long time…
You cannot rely on the external world to provide answers if you're not truly looking.
Your choices in the present moments, are written permanently in the crystals of time.
Every action changes the future and cements the past. Every action is so small that it does not matter on its own, but as a whole creates an intricate and unique story. All these moments given to you are the true gift of this life.
But what of the future?
It is unwritten.
If you believe that the Many Worlds Hypothesis shows that infinite parallel Universes exist to create all possibilities, then your perfect life (all infinite versions of it) exist somewhere out there in those crystalline hyper-surfaces. And in an infinite realm of probabilities, even the most remarkable outcomes are non-zero. Sure, some things seem impossible, like throwing fireballs from your hands. But what if a neutrino collided with a particle at that exact moment you tried? Well, you'd probably be instantly dead in the fiery explosion, but however incredible, it still could happen.
And actions that you can conceive of in everyday life are a great deal more likely than finding exceptional cases in the laws of physics.
So the system for a perfect life can and could exist. It does exist in your mind as an idea. It exists in the realm of possibility. Whether it is a true probability is unknown.
You won't know if it's true until you get there.
Just focus on pointing towards it.
How to integrate this lesson
So, now what? You can take inspiration from this article and apply it to your life.
What can you do to change your current system of habits for the better? What are some tiny steps in your day to day rhythm that you can adjust a bit to make it easier for you to succeed?
I don't have all the answers, but I can help you find your own.
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Nawijn, J., Marchand, M., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. (2010). Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1), 35–47. doi:10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9
Aaron Ball. Recovered Academic. Grieving Environmentalist. Evidence-Based Transformational Coach. Electronic musician. Transrationalist.