In “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” John Lennon sings, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Anyone who has grown old enough to understand the concept of free will, i.e. that everyone has and does practice it, can understand the sentiment behind the lyric. So many self-help gurus preach about the necessity of planning, and while it is important to have a blueprint of what you want to accomplish, there has been no life plan so far that’s proven to be foolproof against the sudden whims of so many other people and other factors that are out of your hands.
With the new year about to be upon us in just a few weeks, we’ll all be hit with the frenzy of planning to make 2019 “the best year ever!” Stickers are already getting redeemed at coffee shops, and so many brands are already releasing their own versions of planners in hopes that shoppers would snap them up, caught in the blind faith that life could get better if they would just sit down for a bit and map their life out.
However, I’ve come across another concept that takes planning to a whole another level: life auditing. More than simply putting together a To Do list or a set of resolutions, a life audit goes deeper by calling for some self-reflection. Writer Ximena Vengoechea defines it in a Medium story:
“Life audit (n, origin unknown): An exercise in self-reflection that helps you clear the cobwebs of noisy, external goals and current distractions, and revisit or uncover the real themes & core values that drive & inspire you. Also known as: spring-cleaning for the soul.”
Like a temperature check, life auditing requires checking the sturdiness of your personal foundation before adding on more goals that you want to achieve. In Vengoechea’s own practice, she had cleared out an afternoon and used about 100 post-its to audit her life. She started by writing one wish per post-it. “It turns out that most people will stop at 30-40 post-its…The smaller the number of goals, the more within reach, or so I’m told the thinking goes. I had a lot of goals in mind…I blew past 100 wishes in less than an hour. I stopped at 121.”
She then categorized her wishes into themes, which revealed to her her priorities: Skills (particularly, acquiring them) was high, given her passion for learning, but despite the importance of Adventure and Family, the number of wishes that fell within these categories were disproportionately low. “Having a birds-eye view of my priorities was proving to be strangely exhilarating: with the first round of sorting, I felt a rush of clarity and adrenaline as I put together a picture of my life’s priorities. But now I wanted to go deeper: I could sense there was more to be done.” “More” turned out to be finding patterns among her wishes, which helped her restructure the categories. (That’s why it took a whole afternoon.)
Vengoechea then went on to assign each wish to an appropriate time frame to give herself an idea of when to focus on which priority. Inspired by the law of averages, she also listed the five people she spends most of her time with, to gauge if she connects enough with people who could help her significantly with her goals. The holistic approach of life auditing then gave her a clearer picture of who she is, what she wants to do, and how she could do them.
In a nutshell, here are the steps Vengoechea took to do a life audit, which might be worthy of copying:
- Write out your wishes, one per post-it/piece of paper.
- Categorize them into themes that make sense to you. Consider whether certain wishes might fall under more than one theme. Try to spot any patterns among your wishes that could help you streamline your themes or categories.
- Assign each wish to a time frame within which you want to accomplish them, e.g. Now/Soon, Someday, Always/Every day, etc. You could also use dates if you’re more comfortable with having set deadlines.
- Look into your daily life and see if how you currently spend your time would be conducive to the accomplishment of your wishes. Write down the top five activities that you spend most of your time on; “work” can or cannot be one of them.
- Write down the names of the top five people you spend most of your time with, then the top five people who inspire you, i.e. the mentor/muse/role model/creative collaborator types. See where both lists overlap.
- Based on this audit, see what shifts you can do in terms of how you spend your time and whom you spend it with.
It sounds time-consuming, yes, and it also calls for mental energy, but audits by their nature aren’t easy peasy. As it is an exercise on self-reflection, a life audit requires being honest and discriminating about what we want to achieve, and how we can make space for them given our current lifestyle, head space, and support system. Before heaping on more goals (or repeating resolutions) onto our plates, a life audit will have us double-checking if we really need all these goals in the first place, if they truly matter to the kind of life we want to live, and what adjustments they call for. The upcoming holiday break presents the best opportunity for us to get ourselves correct before jumping right into 2019.