Life’s Snapshot

I’m working on a rather longer piece at the moment, inspired by my favourite villains, both of tv and film, and from literature old and new. I’m writing about the lessons in success we can learn from them and why the hero might not be the best role model if you want to live a proactive life. But as I write this I wanted to share an insight that I’ve already put to use. I call it The Littlefinger Rule.

This bit may contain spoilers. Little ones.

Last week millions of people watched the finale of Game of Thrones Season Six. And while most probably spent the following days wondering about the implications of Jon Snow’s true parentage or anticipating the epic battles that are surely on their way now that The Queen of Dragons is crossing the Iron Sea, I spent them rethinking my life.

That’s because of this one short speech delivered by Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in conversation with Sansa Stark.

Every time I’m faced with a decision I close my eyes and see the same picture. Whenever I consider an action I asked myself – will this action help to make this picture a reality, pull it out of my mind and into the world? And I only act if the answer is yes. A picture of me on the Iron Throne, and you by side.

My immediate thought was that this is some strong long term planning technique; of each thing ask if it really contributes to your long term goal. But then, on further reflection, I realised the true genius of one of GoT’s most mysterious villains – the simplicity of the image.

When you ask people about what they want in life, and this is certainly the case for me, they will usually give you a list of things. A nice house, a happy family, a good job, a new car, fancy holidays, close friends, etc. Unlike Littlefinger most people aren’t as single minded in their aims. But, of course, this nuance comes with a cost.

While Littlefinger can summon, in seconds, a rich, emotionally powerful image that unambiguously sums up his principal motivation, I realised that I could not. For me it took a good couple of minutes to think through my life goals and even longer to work them into strong images to which I had a powerful emotional response. What I realised was this:

  • If you can’t see it in a snapshot, it’s too complicated for your monkey brain.

This leads us to a tricky problem: how do you sum up in a single snapshot a complicated set of goals. While sitting on the Iron Throne and ruling the Seven Kingdoms comes with an obvious image right from the start, I realised that for me and my goals, what I needed were metaphors.

So over the weekend I sat down with my wife and we talked about what I want out of my life. We talked about my goals and aims, the things that worry me or upset me and the things I wish to overcome. In the end we managed to narrow it all down to four areas:

  1. Health – my physical, emotional and mental wellbeing
  2. Adventure – living a full and exciting life with learning and new experiences
  3. Love – being a good friend and loved one to those around me
  4. Work – providing for myself and my family with meaningful employment

For each of these areas I wrote down a short, 100 words or so, description based on what this state would look and feel like. But even these were too complicated to translate to simple snapshots that could be called upon in a moment. Too detailed to be emotionally punchy.

As a final step I decided to create personas – metaphorical states that could represent the wider meaning of each life goal. I’d like to share those with you now.

  1. Aran the Beach Bod – I’ve never been entirely comfortable with my body. When I imagine myself as the picture of health and fitness the image of me, on a beach, untroubled by being in public semi naked(!) is about as powerful an emotional driver I can come up with. In this image I see sports equipment and maybe even a surfboard. This is an Aran who is healthy and confident.
  2. Aran the Warrior Monk – Bold, outward facing action mixed with a deep inner life. In this snapshot I imagine myself dressed in some Asian inspired robes, carrying a staff. Again I’m outside, with others but not tethered to anything or anyone. In this image I see freedom and adventure, learning and self expression. This is an Aran who lives a full life.
  3. Aran the Zen Dad – I’m not a father yet but I know that, when I am, this will be the biggest personal challenge of my life. So when I think about being a good friend and loved one it’s in the role of a dad that this idea is most profound. In this snapshot, a simple image compared to the first two, I’m a little older, a little calmer, I see a man who is ready and able to be there for those around him. I’m in my home which is a welcoming and loving place and there’s my child who represents something joyful, not pressure and not fear. This is an Aran who can be there for others because he’s centred in himself.
  4. Aran the Guru Coach – this one is simple. When I think about my work, when I imagine any scene in which I am delivering services to anyone, what I see in this snapshot is a coach and since I find Eastern spiritualism so rich in interesting images, I use the word Guru to bring to mind a calm wisdom. In this scene I am in a room with a group of people, sitting in a circle. There are ideas flashing here and there, suprising and exciting thoughts and insights, and I quietly help the thinking, gently nudge, reflect and challenge. When I see this snapshot I feel good. I feel right. And I know this is the Aran I need to be in my work.

Littlefinger only has one image in his mind when he thinks about his future. But he’s a villain in a TV show which makes his life a little simpler. Now I have four images to work with so my rather less eloquent speech would go something like this:

Every time I’m faced with a decision I close my eyes and see the same four pictures. Whenever I consider an action I asked myself – will this action help to make these pictures a reality, pull them out of my mind and into the world? And I only act if the answer is yes. Pictures of me as a Beach Bod, a Warrior Monk, a Zen Dad and a Guru Coach.

OK, it’s not quite must see TV, but it works for me.

What about you?

  • Can you sum up your major goals in simple, powerful, emotionally meaningful snapshots?
  • Can you connect with these snapshots strongly enough that they can deeply move you now, changing what you choose to do?
  • How rich is your image of the future, metaphor, persona or literal?

I’d love to hear from you and happy to answer any questions you have about motivation, creativity, coaching and change.

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