I was reading Professor Chris Peterson’s “A Primer in Positive Psychology” book last night – this was light relief after many nights of trying to get to grips with the terminology in the academic papers for my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology – anyway, he outlined a well known personal development technique called ‘Your Legacy’. It’s a different slant on Seligman’s January Retrospective, which we talked about on the blog a few weeks ago.
Here is Peterson's version of the Legacy exercise:
• Take a clean sheet of paper and a pen (or create a new document on your PC)
• Think ahead to your life as you would like it to be, and especially how you would like to be remembered by the people closest to you. What would you like them to say about you? What accomplishments and personal strengths would they talk about? Try not to indulge in fantasy, but don’t be modest about what you would like your legacy to be either.
• Write a couple of paragraphs, maybe 100-150 words or so.
• Look back at what you’ve written and ask yourself the following two questions: What can I realistically do to bring about my legacy, which is within my control? What am I currently doing now which will move me towards this goal?
Keep what you have written safe, and read it again in a few month’s or a year’s time. Ask yourself whether you have made progress towards your goal. If not, feel free to change your legacy if new goals have emerged – it belongs to you, after all.
And then here is our version of the Legacy exercise, which you may want to do with a close friend in case you find it unsettling. In our experience, the difference between the writing exercise and the doing exercise can be very illuminating, so you may want to do both, and compare results after:
1. Establish a timeline somewhere in the room, noting where the present and the future is represented.
2. Step onto the timeline wherever today is represented, and move along it until you get to the day of your funeral.
3. Stand there for a moment, noticing what is going on: what are people closest to you saying about you? How are they remembering you?
4. What are you saying about yourself?
5. When you have noticed everything there is to notice, move back to the present.
6. In the present, ask yourself what aspects of your legacy you have noticed. How is your legacy different to what you expected? How might you want your legacy to be different? What can you do now to bring about a different legacy?
What our coaching clients find is that this exercise helps them get things in perspective, helps them focus on what they really want out of life, and often brings into sharp contrast the difference between how they are living their life now versus what they really want it to be.
We'd be very interested to hear how you get on with these exercises, and if you experience different results using them.