4 Steps to Design Your Life With Optimism and Creativity

Hello! I am Ayse Birsel, designer and author of Design the Life You Love. If you think your life is your biggest project and want to think about it with optimism and creativity, take a look. No prior creative experience necessary!

Life, just like a design problem, is full of constraints — time, money, age, location, and circumstances. You can’t have everything, so you have to be creative to make what you want and what you need co-exist. This requires thinking differently, like a designer.

But you don’t need to be a designer to design your life. You just need to think like one. That means with optimism. Designers believe they can solve any problem and come up with a better solution. This optimism drives our creative energy.

Design the Life You Love is my design process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction, applied to our life.

To design your life you’re going to use a bona fide design process that has four easy steps. This is my process, the same that I use when designing products for Herman Miller, or working on Design DNA for Harvard Business Review. I am going to show you how you can also apply it to your life.

Let’s get started! But first let’s warm up our right brains.

Step 0: Warm-Up!

I start every project by drawing. I learned this when I was in design school. It’s like a little signal to the right brain saying wake up! But don’t worry. No one is grading you. So, pick something to draw.

Here are some things you can draw: your cat or dog, your coffee cup, a flower, a chair, or your kid. See my kids below — note that they’re easier to draw if they’re playing on their phone. Just draw for 5 minutes and you can feel your creative brain warming up!

Drawing as warm-up is my creative habit. What is yours? Read Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life” to discover yours.

Step 1: Deconstruction!

“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible or necessary to resolve it.” — René Descartes

As you see from this Descartes quote, deconstruction is not a new idea but a very useful one for tackling big subjects, such as life.

If you want to understand what your life is made up of, break it into its basic building blocks — people, places, projects, time. Continue to break the building blocks into smaller pieces. Include things you love and things you want to avoid. You will see your life emerge in front of your eyes, deconstructed.

Here is a deconstruction map from Carla Diana, a humanistic designer of robots.

Step 2. Point of View!

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
— William Shakespeare

I love this quote because it reminds me that everything depends on our point of view. As designers we are charged with seeing the same things differently to find new solutions, hopefully to make things better for people.

Let’s look at our life with new eyes!

Can you think of a challenge you face and then intentionally try to see it as an advantage?

This is where we have fun. Think of your heroes — people who’ve influenced and inspired you in some way. List their names and write their qualities. Don’t forget to draw a little icon next to their names. Every hero needs a little symbol, just like Superman’s big “S”!

I love this exercise because it helps me think about a tough question, “what are my values”, playfully.

Our heroes remind us of our own values, which are the foundation of our life design. Many things change but our values keep us steady. It’s helpful to revisit them every now and then, because if you’re like me, it is possible to forget or even question them in the midst of everyday life.

Step 3. Reconstruction!

“Look closely at the present you’re constructing, it should look like the future you’re dreaming.” — Alice Walker

Reconstruction, our third step, is the other side of Deconstruction. This is where you decide what you want your life to look like going forward — what to keep, what to leave out, and what to change.

And, let’s be frank, you can’t have everything.

To focus on what truly matters to you, pick only three things. Remember you can always change and play with your choices.

Remember! What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Your three choices will help you simplify the complexity of your life going forward.

Step 04: Expression!

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
— Dalia Lama

My sense is you design your life to create an original life that looks and feels like you. It is about finding coherence, in happy times as well as in the more challenging moments in our life. Expression, our last step, is about giving form to our original design, building on our Reconstruction.

Expression of the life we love is unique to each of us — it defines who we are and the life we want to live. It is the pursuit of a life well-lived.

To express your design, write yourself a letter about the life you love. You can use everything you’ve done so far — what you’ve learned from your deconstruction, your heroes, and your three choices — to express your idea.

You can then submit your letter using www.futureme.org and choose a return date, in a year, five years, or more, for when you want to receive it!

Living the Life!

Once you design the life you love, live it.

Share your design with your family and friends and bring them along. Don’t forget, all good design starts in the imagination of one person but grows and comes to life through collaborations with many.

Remember that you get better at designing with practice. You will find different exercises in my book to keep learning by doing. And to get even better at it, teach the process to someone else. You can even design your lives together.

Excerpted from Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future, by Ayse Birsel. Get your copy here.

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