As a career coach and mentor at various accelerators and educational institutions, I speak with a lot of recent college grads about their future plans.

Instead of being excited about starting their careers, most of them are stressed out. They look at their friends and convince themselves they’re the only person in the world who doesn’t know who they are and what they want to do with their lives.

The reality, however, couldn’t be more different.

Sure, there are some people who find their fire at a young age and quickly develop the skillset to make their flames spread. Most mortals, however, will have to fight to find their spark.

From my experience, the best way to accomplish this isn’t found by focusing solely on big questions like, “Who am I?” or “What should I do with my life?” But rather consistently asking yourself smaller questions and diving into light-weight, yet thought-provoking exercises, that over time allow the dots you are collecting to better connect.

The exercise below — passed on to me by the owner of a massive Youtube channel on all things leadership, Conor Neill — has not only been impactful for me but my clients now rave about it also.

The best part is, it’s about as simple as they come.

d

If you’re going to audit anything, start with yourself

Four years ago, while speaking to Conor about the direction I wanted to take my career, he said something that hit me like a 78′ Ford Bronco:

You’re making things harder than they need to be. Stop thinking so damn much. You need to start a ‘Love / Hate’ list.

If you aren’t familiar with a “Love / Hate” list, it’s not complicated. It may sound overly simple, but if there was one exercise I wish I had started when I was younger, this would be it.

Each evening, before going to bed, draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and write “Love” at the top of one column and “Hate” at the top of the other. Then write down anything or anyone who lifted you up during the day and anything and anyone who brought you down.

In order to cement the habit, don’t worry about diving deep — that will come. Start by asking yourself the following 4 questions:

  • What gave me energy today?
  • What stole my energy today?
  • Who gave me energy today?
  • Who stole my energy today?

Limit yourself to one minute per question to start. Challenging yourself to write as much as you can with that short time-constraint will keep you honest and you’ll learn to better trust your gut. Not only that but keeping it easy and lightweight will seriously help you cement the massively important habit of reserving time for self-reflection.

d

Don’t mess up the endgame

A lot of people are data collectors. They take note of everything, but rarely take the time to sit down and dissect their findings in order to actually make a change.

When it comes to raising your self-awareness, it pays to not be like most people.

Embrace the data.

It’s fine if you spend a few extra minutes each night looking over your lists to spot congruencies or take a few extra moments to add to your list. It helps, however, if you let your emotions simmer and you reserve a good 20 minutes at the end of each week to review your findings.

Just do yourself a favor and for every minute you think about what lights you up, spend two minutes getting clear on the things or people who bring you down.

Then be ruthless when it comes to ridding these things from your environment.

“If you’re a hot air balloon, you’ll fly a lot higher if you focus on dropping the weight that is holding you down instead of adding heat to the balloon.” — Conor Neill. 

d

Be careful, you may end up with a journaling habit

If you were to ask most self-awareness experts for the most beneficial practices, the odds are high they’ll tell you to prioritize two things: carving out a meditation practice and journaling.

This sounds great to most people on paper, but when the clouds hit the dirt a lot of people fail to cement these habits.

This is exactly why starting a “Love / Hate” list is so effective — without you knowing it, you’ll begin to prioritize time for yourself and it will get you writing about yourself.

Who knows, if you stick with it long enough a moment may arrive when you realize that when it comes to getting to know yourself — 4 minutes a day isn’t nearly enough.