I’m currently reading Todd Henry’s newest book Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice. In it he suggests doing an exercise called “50 Notables.” The intention of the exercise is to help readers identify where we come alive in our work.
But I think it can also tell us where we come alive in our lives — in any area. It’s a way that we can become more mindful, conscious and deliberate. Because once you know what moves you, you can include more of that in your life. And because once you know what moves you, you can start saying “no” to the things that don’t.
In other words, you can start building what brings you meaning. You can start focusing on what matters to you.
Here’s Henry’s exercise from Louder Than Words:
- “When are you at your best? When do others seem to connect most deeply to your ideas? What is the context, whom does the idea tend to inspire, and why do you think that’s the case?” List 10 specific instances.
- “When are you moved emotionally?” List the 10 times you remember getting emotional about what you were experiencing. This might be at work, at home or with your friends.
- “What stirs your anger?” Here, Henry is referring to “compassionate anger” (versus road rage kind of anger). This is when you’re angry on behalf of someone else. List 10 times when you’ve experienced compassionate anger.
- “What gives you great hope?” “Where do you hold a strong vision and great hope for your life and work, even though it may seem irrational to others?” Again, create a list of 10 (if you have that many).
- “What kinds of problems are you naturally drawn to solving?” “What kinds of problems do you naturally obsess over?” List 10 instances when you became obsessed with solving a specific problem.
After you have a list of about 50 notables, Henry suggests looking for patterns and themes.
Also, keep a running list of the things that move you or challenge you, updating it and reviewing it regularly. Specifically, these might be the things that “spark a new insight, make you angry, excite you, surprise you, concern you, make you aspire to something, make you afraid.”
To record your current notables, Henry suggests creating these four columns:
- “What is it?” where you write the specific experience or observation that resonated with you.
- “Why notable?” where you write why it resonated with you, using the above categories. For instance, did the observation move you emotionally? Was it a problem that piqued your curiosity?
- “Where” as in where the experience or observation occurred. According to Henry, “geographical clues will help you to remember it later, or to relive the experience.”
When you’re reviewing your list, look for patterns. Several years ago Henry was noticing things about some of the people he was interacting with. He noticed when these individuals were able to speak with clarity and bring others together around a goal. These patterns eventually became the outline for Louder Than Words.
So to summarize, start paying attention to what captures your attention. Start exploring the problems that pique your interest. Start noticing what stirs you, and the ideas you’ve created that stir others. Start naming what surprises you and enchants your imagination. Start focusing on your vision and what gives you great hope. Because this is where you’ll find creativity and energy. And where you’ll likely feel most alive.
P.S., I’ve also written this piece featuring wisdom from Henry’s last book Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. It explores cultivating curiosity for doing our best work and really living our best lives.