One of my favorite genres to read is biography. The ups and downs of people’s lives, the bodies of work they create over a lifetime and the arcs of their lives give perspective to my here and now.
Twenty years ago, I read three biographies of Walt Disney. One of the things that stuck out to me is that he envisioned — and planned for — Disneyland’s trajectory long before his dream became a reality, often thinking years or even decades ahead. It inspired me to do the same. I have started several organizations, and every time I have set down a 50-year plan in writing.
I’ve since seen examples of how other visionaries like Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Henry Ford and Elon Musk all leveraged decade thinking on their paths to extraordinary achievement. Decade thinking can be a game-changer for your life and your business.
A new decade just began. How much time did you give to pondering the decade ahead? Are we better or worse off for not pausing to ponder the new decade and all its possibilities? I’d say considerably worse off. Here’s why: The period of time we think most about has an enormous impact on our lives.
One of the simplest and most powerful coaching techniques we use at my company involves an exercise that helps people change their time horizon. Most people don’t regularly think about their lives three, five or 10 years from now. As a result, their hopes and dreams always remain at arm’s length.
Take an hour. Write down your hopes and dreams for this year, for the next five years and for the next 10 years. When you are done, sit with those pages and reflect on how you feel. Most people feel more passionate and purposeful. Most people have more enthusiasm. And enthusiasm for life is the secret of eternal youth.
But most people won’t do the exercise at all. They will find some reason to dismiss it. For decades, thought leaders have been telling us to focus on the now, live for the now, get lost in the now and live as if we are dying. There is an element of wisdom to this, but it is only one side of the equation. The second side is hoping, dreaming and planning for the future.
If you lived every day as if it were your last day, you would never save money, develop meaningful and lasting relationships, make health a priority or attend to so many other things that enrich our lives over time.
There’s a quote that has been attributed to everyone from Marcus Aurelius to Bill Gates to Anthony Robbins: “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade.” It is true except for one thing: Most people never consider what they would like to accomplish over the next decade. They neither underestimate nor overestimate. They don’t even consider the possibilities. This is the tragedy of the unnoticed new decade that just began. Its possibilities are unexplored.
Years ago, I had an extraordinary encounter with an architect. Her specialty was luxury homes. I asked about her approach, and she explained something that has fascinated me ever since:
“The majority of people build a home to accommodate a family,” she said. “What they don’t realize is that how they will use this home they are designing and building will change every five years for 25 years, and then every 10 years for as long as they live in it.” She went on to explain, “Most people design a home for their needs today, not realizing that by the time the two- to four-year process of designing and building a luxury home is finished, their needs will have already changed.”
The architect went on to explain that she uses an exercise to help people envision how the ways they use the home will change over time. She begins by having them lay out the next 25 years in five-year increments: five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years from now. Write down how old they will be at each interval. Write down how old their children will be at each interval. Write down which rooms in the home will be the most important during each five-year period.
The exercise radically alters the homes people design and build. Similar exercises about our hopes and dreams will radically alter the way we live our lives. Our priorities around money also tend to change every five years, too.
A new decade is before you; what would you like to do with it? What one outrageous goal would you like to accomplish this decade? It may not be possible this year or next, but give yourself a decade, and amazing possibilities can unfold. What 10 things would you like to experience or accomplish between now and the end of 2030? Write them down, and take 10 minutes once a week to reflect on what you wrote down. I like to do this exercise on Sunday afternoons as a precursor to the week ahead.
In my experience, it will change your life instantly and forever. Instantly because it will inject you with a new enthusiasm for your life. Forever because simply by doing this exercise, you will begin to learn a quintessential life skill: the ability to look into the future and envision a bigger and better future. But you don’t have to take my word for it — the beauty of this theory is you can put it to the test.
Decade thinking is a life skill that nobody teaches and everybody needs. We are at the beginning of a new decade, and there is no better time to learn decade thinking.