My dad was an accomplished guy. For years before he started his own assessment and consulting company, he directed management education at General Electric. In his mission to apply brain dominance theory to learning, he created a body of work that included two books and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI®). He also actively pursued his avocations—landscape painting and singing. In college, he majored in physics and music, and he once performed in an opera at Carnegie Hall.
One day I knocked on the door of my dad’s office and said, “Okay, level with me. How did you get all this done? What’s the real scoop?”
In response, dad walked over to a file cabinet and pulled out a single sheet of paper. From the looks of it, I immediately knew that it had been around for a long time. Then he explained what was on that sheet:
"One day, many years ago, I asked myself what I wanted to be when I grew up. I know that sounds strange. But at that time I was asking myself: Is this all there is? And I wanted clarity about what to accomplish within the scope of my lifetime.
So I took out a blank sheet of typing paper and turned it sideways to get a landscape view of it. Then, in the upper right hand corner, I wrote a list of things to accomplish within the scope of my lifetime. For example, I knew that I wanted to become a professional artist. I also wanted to move to a beautiful part of the country and build the house of my dreams. Above that list I wrote a target date for meeting those goals.
Next, I went down to that lower left hand corner of the paper and wrote the current date.
Then I drew a line to connect the two dates and said to myself: Okay. So how do I get from here to there?"
Wow. That really gave me something to think about. I started filling in the blanks by listing things to get done, such as selling my paintings and looking for land. After a while I got clear on how to bridge that gap between the present date and my target date.
You know, I didn’t actually do everything exactly the way it’s drawn here. Yet I had a picture in my mind and believed that I could do it. And what’s most important is that everything actually got done.
This is a process that I recommend to you. What you’ll gain is a vision for your life that is both clear and flexible. You might be surprised at how simple—and how effective—this one-sheet technique can be. Following are some points to remember:
- Stay flexible. There’s no right or wrong way to do create your vision. Paper is cheap, so be willing to use a lot of it. If you’re not happy with a vision you create, then pull out a new sheet and start over again.
- Choose your time frame. You might want to create a vision for the next ten years of your life—or the next five years, two years, or one year. Choose whatever works for you.
- Dream freely. In the upper right hand corner of your paper, brainstorm a list of goals that you’d like to accomplish within your chosen time frame. Don’t censor your thinking. Give yourself permission to write anything—even goals you’ve never dared to speak out loud.
- Jog your thinking. If you get stuck when listing goals, imagine that someone is going write a newsletter about you on your target date. What headlines would you like to read in that newsletter? Read some actual newspapers or magazines to spur your thinking, or go online to some of your favorite web sites. You might also talk to friends and family members and ask them for ideas.
- Set priorities. After creating your list, you’ll see that some of your goals are more important than others. Underline the “deal breakers”—those that you absolutely want to get done. Focus on achievements that will really give you a sense of accomplishment. Write a target date for these goals, and then draw a circle around the list.
- Pinpoint the present. In the lower left corner of your paper, write today’s date. Draw a circle around it as well.
- Connect the circles. This is the easy part. Draw a line to connect the current date with your prioritized list of goals.
- Fill in the blanks. Now fill up the rest of the paper. Write down the things you’ll do between today’s date and the target date to achieve your goals. Just play with this and have fun. Feel free to write your to-do items anywhere on the page. Don’t worry about assigning a date to any of them. And don’t feel obligated to do every one of these items. Your purpose in listing them is simply to create a mindset for moving into action.
What’s interesting to remember is that the brain doesn’t always distinguish between imagined events and real events. By using the one-sheet technique, you are wiring neural circuits in a way that builds a pathway to your vision.
In addition, this technique reminds us about the difference between certainty and clarity. Certainty locks you into a single path to achieving a goal—a path that might actually take you farther away from your desired results. In contrast, clarity means creating a vision of your future and then staying flexible. As long as you’re clear about the “end game,” you can choose from multiple paths to getting there.
This distinction is key to managing your mental processes. In a world that’s volatile, uncertain, and complex, the quest for fixed road maps to the future can become a handicap. Be willing to release certainty. Go for clarity instead.
Looking for even more clarity? Take control of stress with the Whole Brain Stress Management Toolkit.