martha beck
Illustrations: Peter Arkle

Step 3: Map Your Islands of Enhancement

Odysseus didn't just hit the water; he sailed from island to island, encountering different adventures. The trip was interrupted by storms, love affairs, and problems with his boat. Hey, ship happens. You, too, will island-hop from experience to experience, procuring supplies, asking for directions, falling into pit traps. If you proceed without a plan, the journey will feel out of your control. Luckily, it's possible to start mapping the trip before it begins.

For every image on your Ideal Island that isn't on your Island of Experience, you'll create an Island of Enhancement. For example, if your Ideal Island includes visiting Peru but you've never left Kentucky, label a blank sheet "Travel to Peru". Stick this page between the Island of Experience and Ideal Island. Then fill it with images of your adventure: people chewing coca leaves, exploring Machu Picchu, adopting a wild macaw.

Repeat this process for every item that appears in your ideal life but not in your actual experience. This is not something you'll do in one fell swoop. I have island chains that took me a year to make. During moments of inspiration (or uncertainty), this work can be immensely revelatory (or calming). You're creating an archipelago of experiences to get you to your dream. But before you can get there, you've got one more category of islands to create.

Step 4: Create Your Islands of Enlightenment

There are probably things on your Island of Experience that don't appear on your Ideal Island: anxiety, for instance, or cigarettes, or that extremely judgmental aunt whose hugs feel like strangles. For each item, create an Island of Enlightenment—a place where you'll unload encumbrances.

Just as you did for the things you want, label sheets of paper with each thing you don't want: anxiety, tobacco, Aunt Gladys. Now find images of people defeating such monsters—getting therapy, chomping on nicotine gum, setting boundaries with incoming aunts. This may involve research. Google your topic, paw through magazines, ask knowing friends. As you collect ideas and information, add images of freedom to each Island of Enlightenment. Continue this process until you have an island for everything in your current life you hope to leave behind. Now you can hoist anchor and set sail.

Step 5: Go Island-Hopping for Provisions and Information

To follow your map, seek activities that resemble any part of any island other than your Island of Experience. It's often best to start with the Islands of Enhancement. If your Travel to Peru collage includes the rainforest, Machu Picchu, and macaws, live those pictures, or something like them. Eat guava and mangoes. Train for hikes on a stair machine. Wear parrot feathers in your hair. Then begin living the experiences on your Islands of Enlightenment: Find a therapist, join a tobacco recovery group, get assertiveness or martial arts training to deal with Aunt Gladys.

What you're doing here is normalizing the feel of your Ideal Island. This is key to reaching your goal, because people have a way of almost ineluctably creating situations that feel normal. Traveling the archipelago also opens you to helpful information and relationships. The more you explore, the more accessible you make the experiences on Ideal Island.

Next: How to incorporate new information into your ideal island


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