Woman writing in notebook
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1. What Younger You Would Like About Present You

Most of us know our disappointments by name. But what about your life has turned out to be bigger, brighter, sparklier than you ever would have imagined? What would make 14-year-old you delighted, if not disbelieving? Maybe you have the job you never thought attainable, you prima ballerina/pilot/bakery owner/astronaut you. Maybe you have the greatest husband in the world, or seven cats, or a late-discovered but amazing faculty for acquiring new languages. Escribe, por favor.

2. The Watched/Read It List

Right now, write down the name of the book you're reading and the last movie you saw. Keeping a list of all the books you have read and movies you have seen will help you remember where your mind has been and also, over time, will reveal your changing tastes and moods. Like any journal, the list will start to show you your own patterns. It must mean something, for example, that every 10 years you go through a vampire stage, then a poetry palate cleanser, before diving into some classics. And if you keep a list, you won't ever have to reread the first hundred pages of Finnegans Wake before realizing why things seem so familiar.

3. The Mistake You Never Want to Make

Once, while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon, my husband and I saw a parent flipping out at his sulky child, shouting (as we now repeat daily), "You're ruining everything, Mr. Complainer!" We didn't have children, so of course we thought this was hilarious—the kind of parenting error we would never in a million years commit. The dad was too irritated to see how his outburst made the child a thousand times less likely to stop complaining, bizarrely laying responsibility for how fun the entire vacation was, possibly the vast Grand Canyon itself, on the kid's grouchy little blond head. Now that we have a couple of Mr. Complainers ourselves, we use it as a cautionary tale; when whininess eats at our eardrums, we remind each other, "Don't 'Mr. Complainer' him, okay?" Maybe yours is a life-level whoops you never want to commit—your sister's bad marriage, your best friend's ill-suited career path—or a smaller matter, like having witnessed at the next table over the horrors of a first date marred by a mouth-full-of-food talker. If it's an act you want to avoid, make a note of both the mistake and why it was so bad.

4. Your Ideal Outfit

In your perfect world, what are you wearing right now? Why aren't you actually wearing it?

5. A Deep, Dark—Shhh—Secret

The mystifying thing about secrets is that everyone around you has one, but you don't know what it is. What's the secret no one would suspect about you? And, as Martha Beck suggests, ask yourself, Does knowing this information make my inner life feel brighter or darker?