My 3 favourite exercises to redefine success

Anna Lundberg sitting on the sofa writing in her notebook

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you’ll know (and, if you’re new, you’ll soon learn!) that I’m passionate about reimagining success towards a definition that’s more meaningful and personal to you. I’ve written already about moments in life when it’s time to redefine success. These include when you’ve achieved the goals that you set for yourself; when you’re paying too high a price for your current success; when you’re going through a big transition in your life (for example, becoming a new parent, going through a divorce, experiencing your grown children moving out and nearing retirement); and, well, just because. But how do you do it? How do you redefine success, in concrete terms? Here are some of my favourite exercises to redefine success.

3 exercises to redefine success

1. Looking back: Mapping out your lifeline

One exercise that can help is to explore your ‘lifeline’ from your childhood right through to where you are today. Consider both the positive and the negative experiences that you’ve had so far and, most insightfully, what drove those experiences.

When were you at your happiest; which were your happiest moments? When were you most proud of yourself? And when did you feel the most fulfilled?

What have been the highlights in your career, in your personal life, your hobbies, travels, sporting achievements, or family milestones? For me, they might include graduating as valedictorian (top of my high school class), being accepted to study at Oxford, getting a top rating in my first job, quitting my job (yes, it was one my happiest and proudest moments), and writing and publishing my first book. In my personal life, getting the lead role in a play in my amateur theatre group, road-tripping with my aunt up the Californian coast, paddleboarding on the Mississippi River, meeting my partner and having our two children, and fulfilling a lifelong ambition to live by the sea.

What have been the low points? Professionally, they might include a terrible boss and toxic office culture, an experience of burnout, or being made redundant. Personally, maybe you had a tough breakup, ongoing marital problems, or an illness in the family.

Consider the most memorable and therefore most important milestones that have shaped you, as these will shed light on the moments when you were living in alignment with your values, and when there was a disconnect.

As you explore the different moments on your ‘lifeline’, taking them individually and together, look for what they are telling you about what’s important to you. What are the patterns? And what does this tell you about how you want your lifeline to unfold from this point onwards?

The highs and lows along your lifeline

2. Looking ahead: Reflecting on what you want to do, be, and have

Okay, so we’ve looked back into your past, and this can be very insightful. But we’re talking about redefining success for the future, so we need to start imagining what you want this to look like, irrespective of what happened in the past.

What do you want to do, be, and have? The tendency is to focus on the have – “I want to have a big house,” or “I want to have a successful career” – and this can leave you with quite superficial goals. In focusing only on the things that you want to have in your life, you don’t really get to the heart of what you want and why. Here, we’re trying to go a bit deeper.

The second part, then, is what do you want to do? Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, you want to travel the world, or you want to spend more time with your children?

Finally, what do you want to be? Do you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry, an inspirational role model, or a nurturing parent?

So those are three different elements to look at, to reframe your goals and to try to get closer to your vision by coming at this from a few different angles.

What do you want to do, be, and have?

3. Looking around: Identifying your ‘big rocks’ in your life at this moment

Finally, and perhaps my favourite exercise, is a concept that I believe was at least brought into the mainstream by management guru Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I came across it in one of my very first ‘lunch-and-learn’ sessions at Procter & Gamble.

Let’s imagine that you have an empty jar. Next to it, you have piles of different materials. You have big rocks, medium-sized stones, smaller pebbles, bits of gravel, and some sand. If you can picture the sequence of first pouring in the sand, the gravel, the pebbles, and stones – well, the jar is now quite full. If you then try to put the big rocks in, you can’t push them in, and they’ll remain on the table.

Let’s now reverse the sequence and put the big rocks into the empty jar first. You can place the smaller stones and pebbles in the gaps, and pour in the gravel and the sand… Now, suddenly, you’ve managed to fit everything – or, at least, the biggest, most important, things – into that same jar.

The smaller pebbles, the gravel, and the sand – these represent all your admin, the emails and, let’s be honest, most of the tasks currently clogging up your to-do list. These things will get done no matter what, they will fit in around your other priorities – and, if they don’t, the world is probably not going to end.

The big rocks, on the other hand, are the things that are important, that will make the biggest difference, and that you won’t have time for unless you put them first. Within the work and business domain, your big rocks might include writing a book, launching a podcast, or developing a new service. Taking a step back and looking at your life, your big rocks will probably coincide with your glass balls and will include your family, your health, and maybe a personal passion project.

Knowing what your big rocks are, in life and in business, means that you can literally put them first into your jar, or rather, onto your calendar.

Your ‘big rocks’ might represent the five different areas that, in my experience, make up a balanced life – what I call the 5Ls: Live – Love – Learn – Lead – Laugh. Alternatively, you might choose five roles in your life (so, for example, I’m a mother to Sofia and Zack, a partner to Luke, a coach and consultant, a daughter to aging parents, and… a free-spirited adventurous hippie who is maybe taking a bit of a backseat right now, and this in itself is a hint as to how I might want to redefine success going forward!). You might even choose your five core values (for example, authenticity, family, freedom, learning, and kindness). Whatever you choose, make sure that these big rocks are significant and meaningful to you.

Putting the big rocks first

I hope one or more of these exercises to redefine success sparks some insight as to what this next chapter of your life might look like. Let me know how you get on!

And, if you have other exercises that have been valuable as you’ve redefined success, I’d love to hear what they are.

Here’s to your success, whatever that looks like for you!

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