Thought experiments: 9 things to tickle your brain while waiting for the kids

It’s time to get curious about yourself. 

Your daughter’s learning to windsurf – and having a fantastic time; the rest of your tribe are in a diving lesson; and you, the designated driver, are waiting in that familiar state of suspended animation. It’s the perfect opportunity for a spot of self-discovery on the hop.

Here are a few thought experiments you can do while no one is asking for anything or otherwise sending you into sensory overload. All you need is a phone, notebook or voice memo to keep a record of what comes up for you. Gather all the data. You can return to it later this summer and mine it for clues and information to help you in making career choices.

1. Listen to a podcast

Nothing inspires me like a podcast. The iTunes top 100 is a good place to start. Alternatively, download Blinkist (‘big ideas in small packages’); an app that summarises key ideas from nonfiction books and provides them in both text and audio formats.

Pick something that really appeals, grab a drink and enjoy. When inspiration strikes make sure you keep a note of it.

2. What do you love about your job?

Any job, even those we dislike, has something about it we do like. Identify which parts of current and previous roles you enjoy(ed). Perhaps it’s something not even in the job title – like helping a colleague solve specific challenges or a project you took on. The ‘big’ things will probably jump out at you. But there are as many clues in the smaller aspects, so don’t forget them.

3. What were you always doing as a child?

Think about your children (especially if you have more than one). They're different and they are born that way. One may like playing with Lego, while the other has no interest. One loves to invent things and the other would rather climb everything in sight.

Our childhood gives great clues to who we are and what we enjoy. It can be obvious things like playing tennis or painting. Or slightly less obvious or tangible things. These preferences often get lost along the way.

I spent a lot of my teens sitting around with friends (occasionally even skipping class) talking about life, people, relationships and why we all do the same things differently. It wasn’t until I made the choice to become a coach that I saw what an integral part of me this is and how to use it in my career. I just thought I was goofing off. So, when you think about your childhood, capture all the things you loved doing.

Then, go and ask a friend if there’s anything missing from your list because those things that are most familiar to us are most difficult to see; like the proverbial end of your nose.

4. Imagine your perfect day

Really visualize what the day looks like. Where do you go? What do you do? Who are you with? What conversations are you having? What’s your role in the conversations? How much time are you spending on each activity?

Then think about why the day is perfect? What is it about each of the things you’re doing that makes it so good? Above all, how do you feel?

5. What would you do even if you weren’t paid? Why?

Imagine you have all the money you need. What would you do? If you’re reading this, it’s unlikely you’d choose to spend your time sipping cocktails on a beach (well, not all your time).  

Be as specific as you can; rather than ‘work for a charity’, identify which charity and why. What would you like to be doing for them? Would you be running it or would you be reaching out to potential donors and drawing on your relationships to engage people in support of the charity’s mission?

6. If your success was guaranteed, what would you do?

A key reason we procrastinate, even when we really want to make changes, is because we’re scared we might fail or that something will go wrong. So, imagine your success was guaranteed and you couldn’t fail. What would you do then? 

Be bold. No one will read your answers unless you want them to.

Now consider this, you can fail at something you don’t want to do just as easily as you can fail at pursuing your dreams.

7. Which books do you find most inspiring?

Which books have been your favourites? What was it about them you loved? And disliked? What did you find so compelling about a particular character? What did you learn?

8. If you could learn something new or take a course what would it be?

I love learning for its own sake. But the things I’m interested in learning about are also revealing of my passions and what engages me.

So, what are you itching to learn? Perhaps it’s a new language or to improve your public speaking? Do you want to learn to write film scripts, or perhaps how to crowdfund a new business? Brainstorm your ideas, pick your top three, then ask yourself why these are so interesting to you.

9. Do nothing

And if ‘experiments’ nos.1-8 feel like too much effort, then just sit and watch the waves and see what thoughts bubble up. 

We are all so used to the stimulation provided by 24/7 internet access that it’s easy to become overloaded, wired, and for our thoughts to seize up as a result. So, unplug, unwind, let your thoughts come and go. And create space for ideas and inspiration to strike…and don’t forget to capture them when they do.