In his book Five Wishes, Gay Hendricks shares a creative exercise that can help you focus on the emotional development that is most essential for your long-term happiness and thereby manifest your lifelong dreams and goals.

Hendricks learned this exercise from Ed Steinbrecher, an astrologer (bear with me), teacher, and metaphysician. The exercise is a simple, but not necessarily easy, four-step process.

Step 1

Imagine today is your last day. Imagine if, on this last day, someone asked if your life was a complete success. How would you respond? To be honest, I’d give myself a mixed review. I accomplished some things and failed at others. In some cases, I never tried. Even if I thought I did ok overall, I’d be hard-pressed to say my life was a complete success.

If you also said that your life would not be a complete success, continue to step 2.

Step 2

Now, still imagining yourself on your last day, consider why you might say your life was not a complete success. What did or didn’t you do? Express that idea as a wish. I wish I’d had a better relationship with my parents. I wish I’d spent less time at work and more time with my kids. I wish I’d gone to college. I wish I’d learned to swim or play guitar or had travelled more. I wish I’d been more spiritual. I wish I’d hated myself less.

The specific answer doesn’t matter, because it’s personal and unique for each of us. The only restriction is that your answer should be something within your control to accomplish.

For the exercise, it’s important that you be honest about the accomplishments that would have made your life a complete success, whatever that means to you. Take time to consider why this accomplishment would be important to you and why you would feel fulfilled if you achieved it.

Repeat this step until you have identified five things you wish you’d done. Five regrets and five wishes. If you have more than five, that’s fine. If you don’t have five, that’s ok too. Actually, that’s really good.

Step 3

Now reframe those regrets and wishes as positive present-tense statements. Consider what you might regret not doing today and turn it around.

Here’s a paraphrased example from Hendrick’s own exercise:

  • Wish: “My life was not a complete success because I did not follow through on significant communications with people who are important to me. I wish I’d gotten around to saying all the things I wanted to say to my family and close friends.”
  • Present-tense statement: “My life is a complete success because I say and do all the important things I need to say and do. I leave nothing significant unsaid or undone.” 

For Hendricks, this meant taking responsibility for any lack of integrity, making amends, expressing appreciations, and fully committing to loving, honest communication.

Step 4

You’ve now identified the accomplishments that would make your life a complete success. Now set your goals for how you will turn those present-tense aspirations into a real state of being.

Some of your goals may require time, planning, or resources you don’t have right now, but others can be acted upon immediately. Some may have concrete actions and some may require discipline and practice to develop a good habit. You probably can’t leave today to spend six months backpacking across Europe but you can start writing poetry again.

How is this about writing?

I’ve done this exercise in the past, focusing on spirituality, relationships, integrity, self-acceptance, and creativity. This year, I’m completing this exercise again with a focus on creative expression and my writing goals.

If today were my last day, could I say that my writing life was a complete success? No.

I have been successful in my professional business writing career. I have been a good friend, mentor, and editor for other writers, encouraging them to take the next steps towards their creative goals. But I would not say my life was a complete success, because I haven’t followed through on my own creative work and have not fostered the creative community I’ve always hoped to have.

So, for this year, my five wishes for my creative state of being are:

  • I work on projects that are personally meaningful and allow me to explore my big questions about life. I write fearlessly, dig deep for emotional truth, and share my observations, without worrying about anyone’s judgment.
  • I’m committed to continuous learning and development, I’m unafraid to challenge myself, and I’m excited about trying new forms, genre, strategies, and other elements of writing.
  • I finish the projects I start and share my work with others.
  • I’m not competitive with other writers. I share my knowledge, offer encouragement, and celebrate their successes.
  • I engage with other writers, foster community, and seek out creative collaborations.

What are your five wishes for your creative life this year?