What Are Your Top Five Words?

Posted 03.20.2019

The title of this post is the core of a few of my favorite questions. The one I want to focus on today is, in my experience, foundational to effective self-management:

What are the top five words that describe me (you) when I’m (you’re) living and leading at my (your) best?

That’s the first of three core questions in the Life GPS® personal planning framework that my wife Diane and I created for our own use 20 plus years ago and that we’ve since shared with thousands of clients and tens of thousands of readers in my books. (You can get a quick recap of the Life GPS® and the other two core questions in this post.)

I’ve been asking and answering the “at my best” question for myself annually since the late ‘90’s. The words have changed some over two decades but have settled into a consistent list over the past five years or so. The words that describe me when I’m living and leading at my best are:

  • Calm
  • Clear
  • Engaged
  • Energized
  • Fun

The value of having a short list of words that describe me when I’m at my best is that it becomes a reference point that I can use to assess and adjust when necessary. I view them as analogous to the latitude and longitude associated with an address I enter into Google Maps. To oversimplify a complex technological process, when I enter an address in the app my phone is iterating back and forth with a network of GPS satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth to get me where I want to go. If I make a wrong turn or miss an exit, the system keeps iterating, recalculates my route and gets me back on the right path.

I view the process of using a Life GPS® in the same way. When I have a list of the top five words that I believe describe me when I’m living and leading at my best, I can iterate against it to determine if I’m on the right path and should keep doing what I’m doing or make adjustments that will get me on a better path. I usually go through that process at least four or five mornings a week.

It’s a simple process really. All I do is take some quiet moments to look at my list and ask, “How am I doing?” Have I been showing up calm, clear, engaged, energized and fun? Somedays, my assessment is pretty positive on all five words. Other days, I’ll realize that I’ve been off track on one or two. On rare days, I’ll feel like I’m off the mark on the whole list.

When I sense that I’m off the path of living and leading at my best I ask myself, “What do I need to adjust?” I usually look to my routines – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – to figure out what I’ve been missing and then focus on how I can get at least a little bit of one or two of the routines that help me be at my best back into my life that day. I’m not trying to solve for 100 percent. I’m trying to solve for 5 to 10 percent. When I get myself on a path of consistent incremental improvement in my routines, I always find that it helps me in showing up at my best and creating the kinds of outcomes I’m looking for in my life at home, at work and in my community.

That’s a process that’s worked for me, Diane, our clients and my readers for years now. It all starts with getting clear on how you are when you’re at your best. What are your top five words?

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