There are two primary modes for the experience of life: I can either enjoy (or suffer with) whatever comes my way (which can lead to some great spontaneous moments), or I can consciously design the flow. The first strategy requires I stay open and present to what’s going on; the second strategy requires that I understand what’s important to me. They work in tandem. The latter is underutilized.
I once led a vision retreat with 24 participants. I split them into four groups of six and gave them the assignment to come up with a list of their top 3 life experiences. I gave them some time to journal on the subject and then discuss their lists in the small groups. I then had each person come to the front to present their single best life experience of all time. As I might of expected, the birth of children and weddings were prominent for many of the people. But I noticed a tendency I didn’t expect.
This group had people with a large age range: boomers, millennials and gen Xers. As they were presenting, I asked each person the year in which the primo event occurred. I kept a running tabulation. The average of the best thing that ever happened to the participants was well over ten years. This meant that for the intervening decade since the average person had their peak experiences, no one in the group experienced anything they would say was better.
Are you refreshing your "top three" list every year?
I also really enjoyed the birth of my children and my weddings and like most people, for much of my time, I just let life happen to me. This past week was different. My partner and I co-facilitated a strategy session with a great team and then we went skiing for a few days in the backcountry. We had a great deal of blower powder, safe lines to ski, the support of two brilliant mountain guides, hot tub time, croissants, ribeyes, chocolate, mead, laughter, social connection, a little romance, some time in the spa and gaps between runs and days for me to catch up on my writing and with clients I knew were dealing with challenging situations. I checked in on my offspring.
These for me are the ingredients of a dream week and this five day period was a podium experience for me– a top three experience. I did not consciously design the whole “program”. There was still plenty of space for spontaneous joy, but at this point in my life I am quite aware of what I like and am generally pretty conscious of those ingredients and how to combine then. It does not always work. I get lazy, go dark and produce some shitty weeks, but I am very grateful when all the parts come together.
Transcendent experiences require conscious design.
If you want to experience more joy, make a list of your best experiences and then look for the patterns that connect them. These are the design criteria for a podium experience–your key ingredients. Everything that does not happen by accident, happens by design. Like everything else in life, conscious design generally leads to better execution, better outcomes and better times for all involved, whether it’s a great personal adventure or a cool business venture.