How to figure out Who You Are and What You Want: The Personal Manifesto

Contemplative Horse, at Sunset, Bolivian Pampas

Contemplative Horse, at Sunset, Bolivian Pampas

I stumbled recently upon this idea of a personal manifesto.

Great! A way to make an explicit statement about your belief system, and then a written commitment to making it a reality.

So I thought well, fuck it, let me write one.

Then I didn’t.

Because it felt really uncomfortable.

Why? Well, a written declaration of my life stance… That’s pretty scary thing to look directly at isn’t it? A bit like staring into the sun, isn’t that going to make me blind or something?

Most of us just go about our day without explicitly noticing and evaluating our most treasured beliefs and values, whether they are held for good or bad. Yet it is the compass by which we operate in life.

What’s uncomfortable about that? Well, greater scrutiny of your beliefs means you becoming acutely aware that the standards that you think you believe in, are wildly different to the standards you actually believe in. And your life is a testament to that.

Ouch, that’s one unsexy truth right there.

So short of continuing with your head in the sand and stewing in discomfort, something has to give. That means one of two things: Dropping the belief, or bridging the gap.

If a belief is fundamental to your sustained well-being, you cannot just drop it. You’re going to have to take action to make change.

Change is uncomfortable. You know, it just really sucks.

Change bruises the ego. It’s telling yourself: “sorry dude, I know you’ve been doing this for ages now, but it just isn’t working”. There are milder, more polite ways to put it, but either way it takes a courage to level with yourself like that.

Your Personal Manifesto, Otherwise known as “The Game Plan”

It got me thinking of any situation where we need a strategy, a guiding beacon, in order to triumph and instigate change, business (fine), warfare (extreme but true).

Ok, ok, take it back a notch.

Why do we forget the level of ordinary courage it takes to make the kinds of choices that communicate our beliefs and values to the world, day in, day out?

This life. It’s an intense struggle. The desire to remain significant, to make our mark, to lead a fulfilled life, moment by moment we make choices that either lead us toward these things, or – before we know it – allow us to drift away.

Your personal manifesto front-loads your approach to life. It’s your personal game plan. Your beacon for when you can’t see the wood for the trees.

There will be times when you’re juggling a million different things at once, and you’re just about keeping your head above water.

In such moments, when you’re feeling tired, dejected, confused, unsure what to do next, those are not the moments to be making deliberated decisions.

Your manifesto enables you to access the wisdom and insight of your calmer, rounded self – she tells you exactly what you need to do in your time of need.

What’s more, once you write it down – even if it’s just for yourself – it’s there in black and white, and you feel accountable to it.

You’re making a pact with yourself to moment by moment, day by day, conduct yourself by a set of pre-agreed standards.

Getting Started

Right, let’s do this (me included!).

You’re going to need to ask yourself some uncomfortable probing questions.

You thought that you knew yourself, but you might find out that you didn’t really know yourself at all.

Your personal manifesto is getting right to your core.

Yes, you want to understand your thoughts, your principles, your outlook, but it’s more that that.

It needs get to the crux of your beliefs, to tell the story of YOU.

To reveal to you your true inner identity.

There is a great article I read about the importance of using the right language to help you stick to good habits, and avoid bad habits.

When a group was tempted to lapse on their goals, they were told to implement the “can’t strategy” that is, “I can’t miss my workout today”. Another group was told to use the “don’t strategy”, that is “I don’t miss my workouts”.

The study found that the “can’t” group met their goals 3/10 times, and the “don’t” group met their goals 8/10 times.

“Can’t” is a constant reminder of your limitations, what is beyond your reach. It allows you to believe you are at the mercy of circumstance.

“Don’t” is a constant reminder of your power and control in a situation. It enables you to embed an idea as part of your identity: “I just don’t do xyz, it’s not me”. It’s then a natural assumption that anything running contrary to your beliefs is just ridiculous: as if you’d consider it!

Even if your manifesto is aspirational to an extent, the use of “I do”, “I am”, or quite simply speaking to yourself in the present tense, uses the kind of language that re-enforces that your point of power is in the present.

Play around a bit. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be honest.

Let’s get started…

Who is your favourite character in a movie? And why?

There’s something useful about objectifying the values we admire in others that gives us an insight into what truly matters to us.

I’m a bit of a cartoon freak, so for me it’s Ana from Anastasia.

I love that she’s a free-spirit, kind, fun, ballsy, strong willed, curious, beautiful but humble, real, unashamed of her desire for love and family, fearless, determined to find what she’s looking for in the face of adversity and nay-sayers, and shows a great strength of character.

There are elements about her that mirror my own identity, and some others that I am working on.

Who is your favourite movie character and why?

What are you doing when you’re feeling most alive?

What are you doing when you are feeling just the best, the most unique from everyone else in the world?

If I told you could have 5 hours each and every week to do something you love that adds value (however small) to the world, what would you be doing?

These questions tap into your talents and passions.

The things that you bring to the table of life that are special and unique to you.

The things that are important to you and make you feel whole, and fulfilled; that you could pretty much do day in day out and never get bored or tired.

What are you always doing?

How do you just approach things in life?

What do you do naturally that others struggle with, and it surprises you?

This is a weird one, and perhaps the most difficult to pinpoint.

When you’re doing something all the time, and naturally, you don’t stop to consider that it’s a part of your personality and filters into your every decision.

You don’t stop to think, “damn, I’m really a curious person”. You just wake up and start asking questions of the world and try to learn new things in just the same way you brush your teeth every morning: without thinking. But to someone else that might be a completely alien concept.

All these sideways questions are to help you get to the crux of your beliefs, of your identity. It may be so hard to reveal them to yourself, that you may find it helpful to ask the opinion of close friends and family.

Make your list and ask yourself – why?

Why do you always want to do things efficiently? Why are you an extrovert and the life and soul of the party? What beliefs do you hold that shape you into being that kind of person and what’s the likely reason why you have them?

You’ll find that similar beliefs tend to cluster together, often so tightly that it can obscure the core belief behind these behaviours.

It is the core belief that is the driver of your actions, and is held in the utmost regard by your inner self.

For example, you might find that your have a cluster of beliefs that are “provide financial stability for my family”, “show my kids the great outdoors”, “always be there for my kids”.

The core belief here may be, “Be the best mother I can be”.

Sounds great on face value, but this could mean that you are sacrificing elements of your own personal journey, or “clipping your childrens’ wings” by not allowing them to make their own decisions or mistakes in life.

It is with this awareness that your conscious self can assess whether it’s for the improvement or detriment of your life journey.

The personal manifesto should reflect back to you your core beliefs: what you love and is beneficial to you, and what could be doing with some adjustment over time.

What breaks your heart a little?

I cry a little bit every day. It’s kinda weird.

It’s usually when I see someone who is suffering or striving in their own unique and honest way, yet despite this they reach out and do their best to make a mark on humanity, some way, some how.

Man, that kills me. It tells me a lot about where I see beauty in the world; what I value and would like to see more of around me.

Can you see a pattern in the things that set you off emotionally? What does it tell you about the things that you value?

What challenges have you faced that have built you into the person you are today?

A break-up? Career progression? Living abroad? One specific, unique, or unusual experience? 

How did you handle it that was admirable?

These points of pressure in our life are revealing. They can be transformational.

They turn you into a person that people want to reach out to when they need wisdom, insight, or advice.

That’s the person you want to tap into in your own personal moments of struggle.

What fears do you have that scare the hell out of you?

Fear of aging, intimacy, changing jobs, being alone, being assertive, ending a relationship, starting a relationship, success, failure?

Which of these and any other fears do you struggle with, and what is your state of mind when you experience them?

If it is intimacy that you fear, what is it about intimacy that scares you? Being hurt? Being trapped?

If it is aging that you fear, what is it about aging that scares you? Being alone? Being rendered redundant?

Boil it all down, fear is the pain of believing that you will be unable to cope.

You’re in a perpetual state of becoming, always in the process of growth, stretching out and discovering new and unknown territories in you world.

That being the case, you’re never going to arrive at this perfect state where you have no fears about things that matter to you, and you’ll believe without hesitation that you can cope with anything that comes your way. That day just isn’t going to come.

Your personal manifesto is a means to tell yourself “hey, I’m scared, but I’ll cope, because [x reason] is important to me”.

Final thoughts

You life isn’t standing still and neither should your personal manifesto.

Look at it regularly. Review it with the passage of time.

It is a living breathing thing that should just “feel right” and exude into every area of your life.

It is an emotive piece of work that bubbles up from your inner self, not a stage show for what you believe you should be doing based on any external standard.

Equip yourself for those times of struggle.

You won’t always follow it, but well, this is life: has anyone found the manual yet?

The best we can do is be guided by our better wisdom.



Leave a Comment:

Eli Seekins says April 5, 2016

I’m a firm believer in the personal manifesto.

I really liked your point of “can’t” vs “don’t”. That’s such a simple tip with a huge impact.

Psychic Nest says May 21, 2016

Hi Jen,

Wonderful post about personal manifesto! Everything starts by the sad realization that things need to be changed. Yes, change brings fear and even shuttering our ego but really, we can still create something new from the broken pieces we left behind.


Aubrey says December 29, 2016

I really appreciate this post. My life was suddenly turned upside down a few months ago. Basically my life as I know it is over. So I’ve been struggling to figure out where to go from here. How to pick up the pieces and come out a happier and more fulfilled person on the other side. You helped me start thinking about what is truly important to me and what I want, thus how I need to live. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to the things that happen. Doing so openly and honestly is the only way to build a life that we can be happy with.
Thank you for that.

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