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Professional Development

Give Yourself the Gift of Personal Development This Holiday Season

It’s already October, and for many of us, it’s precisely the time to start thinking about the holidays. For me, it’s the moment to buy tickets to finally see my nuclear family and buy a thoughtful and intentional gift for each one of them.

But, this year, of course, feels different.

Change is the cousin of different, and usually, they go out and party together. A lot of people keep saying this year shouldn’t count, but guess what? It should—and should be one for the books.

Maybe there won’t be as many family reunions as we hope. Maybe there won’t be gifts. Or even a nice dinner your mother spent hours preparing. But I want to give you a gift (equally as thoughtful as what I would give to my family): a piece of advice and, hopefully, a useful one. You won’t even have to end up exchanging it, I promise.  

We are often told that the sky is the limit, raised to believe dreams come true. We can get whatever we want and reach as far as we want to. Hard work takes you to wherever your wildest dreams have taken you. Then, we grow up and realize that it might not be the case.

What if our parents have unintentionally lied to us, and we end up becoming just average?

The truth is: words matter, but actions matter the most. Those are the ones that stick to our minds, and sadly, nobody has taught us to follow those dreams in a methodical way—with actions, almost like a recipe to follow when baking the perfect batch of cookies.

Fulfilling our wishes can be demising. The idea of big hopes is very present, especially in Latin American countries, and don’t even get me started with what I saw in the United States!

When I first came to the U.S., I encountered people indulging in fantasies of becoming the next Steve Jobs or the next Elon Musk. It was a cultural shock, for sure, but a positive one. The Bay Area is the land of the dreamers, those who intend to make it or break it.

During my first graduate degree, I learned the rough way that I would have to start from the ground to stay in the neighboring country. No one cared about my international experience. Around the same time, I read an article that stated students with expectations of a raise or a better title would send fewer applications to companies. That spoke to me about the egotistical minds that I have encountered over and over again.

Me? I’ve lived in a more realistic world. Don’t misunderstand me; my family has believed in me since the very early stages of my individualism. My parents taught me to put the effort and the actual work on becoming something in life and that I should always find a way to cement my feet to the ground. Instead of creating false expectations, they turned those into investments. Yes, they invested time and money in my development, and even with all that, I knew from day 1 of graduation that my multiple graduate degrees would not open the doors to heaven by any means.

Sad, huh? We keep imagining a happier future with the next great thing in our way—the next great partner, the dream job, the perfect boss comes along with the big, fat check that will allow us to stop worrying about that future. You see, the problem is that nobody is getting any younger, and life ends the same way for everyone. So start by understanding the real sense of the word fulfillment and how that applies to you. Only then can you begin changing behaviors to change your mindset.

To me, it meant that I needed to narrow my dreams. To frankly think about them, take physical notes, and have clear milestones. That was the exact moment when my life changed forever. And this is precisely my gift to you in this soon-to-be Holiday season:

It’s called mental contrasting with a framework I call “WOOP.”

This framework has helped me both on personal and professional levels. I think it is one of my favorites, too. Its simplicity takes my mind to the highest purpose of design: to create something useful yet straightforward, which is the biggest challenge for humans. So let’s dive into it:

W: Wish

The main idea behind this is to identify a “want” for the short or medium term. Something that is still very challenging but doable. Write it down. Keep it close to your mind and heart.

O: Outcome

Then, the exciting and fun part of all of it starts. It’s when you get to be futuristic! Start to play scenarios by using your imagination on what would be the best outcome.

O: Obstacle

Right after, say to yourself: what is my reality today? What is stopping me from getting there? Am I dependent on other elements/people to achieve that goal? Make the necessary introspective work to find the arsenal of behaviors for all the potential obstacles.

P: Plan

Then, put it into action. Take all those wishes, outcomes, and obstacles, and create a plan of action.

Instead of the typical presents, this is your gift this year: a new framework! The most beautiful thing about WOOP is that it’s one of the few frameworks that turns the microscope to our demons and biases. You won’t take it personally because it comes from you. You need to use it to execute your life accordingly.

There’s one caveat, though, to do a successful WOOP, you need to be entirely uninterrupted; it is a serious exercise and should be taken as such. Like a type of meditation, but more for the skeptics who believe less in spirituality and more in science.

And lastly, here is the best news of it: there’s an app for it!

There you have it. Keep your dreams high, and your execution even higher.

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