The other day I was walking around the reservoir in Central Park and a woman was walking just in front of me but slightly faster. I sped up to overtake her, and then she sped up. Finally I gave up and let her go ahead—but then she slowed down. Did she know we were in a secret race? Soon she was only a few steps ahead of me again, and I sped up full throttle to overtake her.
Ha! I thought. I win.
Until I realized I was so focused on this foolish race that I missed my damn exit. I had to turn around and walk back, tail between my legs (trying to look as intentional as possible, of course).
Do you ever do that? Focus on someone else and lose your way? Whether it's something small and silly like an imaginary race or big things like your career and vision for your future, it's easy to follow others and veer off the right path, often with much bigger consequences.
Here's how to stay focused on your own path in a world full of distractions and people who claim to know better.
1. Ask around (and check in with the past).
It's easy to forget what we've always wanted. Ask your friends and family: What did I always want to do with my life? What were my goals? What did I talk about? Their feedback will connect you to years of your desires.
A client of mine was cleaning out her apartment with her best friend and was delighted to find her old art books in the back of her closet. She was fingering through them and marveled at how good her old stuff was. Her best friend said, "Vicki, you have to create again!"
Vicki's a lawyer and hasn't created art for years. It doesn't mean she has to give up her career. She can just make a little time each month for something meaningful to her. It can be a hobby, a relaxation exercise—heck, even a side hustle!
What would your best friend say you need to reconnect with?
2. Create a vision board.
Put simply, a vision board is a collage of magazine images, photos, pictures, and affirmations of your dreams or goals—basically anything that makes you feel hopeful and inspired—on a simple, A3-size board. Vision boards not only work (they can help you get clear on what you want and unlock the flow of manifestation), but they can also help you understand what "calls" to you through the power of images.
This is a deeply unique and personal experience. What moves you won't move someone else and vice versa. What you uncover might surprise you—the fact that kids never come up on mine is very telling to me. It's a fabulous way to get specific and put your dreams on paper. It's also a wonderful break from digital distraction and a way to connect to your creative core.
3. Journal about your perfect day.
One of the most powerful life coaching exercises I teach is to spend 20 minutes writing out what a perfect day in your life looks like. If you had to live a single day over and over again and be perfectly happy with it, what would happen that day? Go from waking up to falling asleep—even include times, if that helps!
And write it in the first person, starting with "I live in…"
Consider these questions:
Where do you live? Near the beach, the mountains, a city?
What does your home look like?
What time do you wake up?
What do you do in the morning?
What work do you do?
How much do you work?
Who lives with you (if anyone)?
Who are your friends?
What's for lunch? Do you eat with anyone?
What do you do for family time?
How do you spend the afternoon?
What do you do in the evening?
What time do you go to bed?
This is a deeply enlightening exercise. First of all, it's singular: It's only you who gets to decide your perfect day. And secondly, it's free of expectations. It's all about what you want. It's incredible how many "outgrown dreams" show up when you do this. Do you want to wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day to get to CrossFit, show up to your ad agency job by 8:30 a.m., followed by client drinks at a tapas bar before going back to your one-bedroom apartment in Chicago to watch Making a Murderer with your S.O? If so, great!
But what if your dream day is waking up without an alarm in the woods, working online for a few hours, and having a generally more quiet, outdoorsy life with two dogs?
It doesn't mean you need to make a drastic change right now. It just means you should observe your desires. Pay attention. See how in alignment your life today is with your perfect-day life. Remember, it's your perfect day. Not what your parents, friends, or high-school teacher thinks your perfect day should be. How much are you living it? Remember, life doesn't begin later. It's happening right now!
Following a leader or being part of group of people who inspire you is wonderful if it helps keep you focused on your unique, personal desires. Following a crowd because it's easy or because that's what everyone else is doing can work for a while... but be careful not to miss your exit.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!