- What is a personal manifesto?
- Why do I need a personal manifesto?
- How do I write a personal manifesto?
- How do I use a personal manifesto?
Everyone should have a personal manifesto.
Unfortunately if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably never even heard of this idea, let alone know what it is.
My personal manifesto has absolutely changed my life for the better. It has given me the courage to live up to my values and the focus to pursue my true potential.
But seriously, what is it?
What is a personal manifesto?
It’s best to start by understanding the word manifesto, which comes from the Latin word manifestus, meaning obvious.
A manifesto is a statement of policy or intent usually drawn up and distributed to the general public. Throughout history, manifestos have been particularly useful in getting large groups of people aligned around an idea so they can work together to accomplish a common goal.
Here are some famous manifestos:
- The Ten Commandments
- The Ninety-Five Theses (1517)
- The United States Declaration of Independence (1776)
- Common Sense (1776)
- The Communist Manifesto (1848)
- Mien Kampf (1925)
- Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (1964)
Each of these documents, for better or worse, played an essential role in unifying a very broad group of people around a shared objective. Manifestos work because they put concepts into concrete terms for the masses to digest. They also make great reference guides because, unlike the words of political leaders, they seldom change.
This matters because the vast majority of humans rely upon a mental shortcut known as the availability heuristic to help them make decisions. The availability heuristic explains that people make decisions based on the thing they can most readily call to mind.
Religious and political doctrine are far from easy concepts to call to mind, but a well-written manifesto keeps the important details immediately at hand.
Taking this a step further, a personal manifesto is a written statement of describing the values and principles by which you live your life. It’s a mental shortcut that keeps you grounded in your core values and beliefs, so they are right at hand when you need them most.
Why do I need a personal manifesto?
People today are inundated with more information than ever before in human history. Between cable news, emails, texts, and tweets, our brains are so overloaded that we often can’t remember what we’ve eaten for breakfast, let alone reflect on how our decisions align with our values and principles.
It’s so easy to get lost in the flow of the day, and end up making decisions out of convenience rather than out of adherence to our intrinsic guiding principles.
In this way, your personal manifesto is a little like a compass, keeping your values top of mind to guide your thinking and decision-making all the time, even when the pressure is on.
It’s also like a mirror, reminding you who you are when the time comes to act like it.
People who act in alignment with their values are happier. Full stop. Behaving in alignment with your values makes you feel complete, fulfilled, and right. When your behavior is out of alignment, you feel anxious, uneasy, and ashamed. It’s simply human nature for us to want to do the things we believe are right. And when we do what’s right, we move closer to being our best selves.
Unfortunately people today are faced with more temptations and distractions than ever before. More and more of us are compromising our values for the sake of expedience. We do what “seems” right, rather than what we intrinsically believe to be right.
How do I write a personal manifesto?
When starting out, it’s important to remember that your first manifesto will not be your last manifesto.
I wrote my first manifesto three years ago and have edited it countless times since then, adding, removing, rewording, and reordering statements based on the challenges I believed were most important to me. Just this morning, I removed a statement that I’d had in my manifesto since I first wrote it, because I realized it had become redundant with another statement and no longer served its purpose.
Too often, our desire to do things perfectly the first time leads us to avoid doing anything at all. It’s best to jump in and go for it. Assuming you make reviewing your manifesto a regular habit (as discussed in Steps 4 and 5), you’ll be on your way to an essential reflection of you, in no time.
Step 1: Create a list of 3-5 core values
You can’t define your personal truths and intentions if you don’t know what they are. The easiest way to figure it out is to create a big list of personal values that resonate with you.
When doing anything creative like this, it’s always easier to start with something rather than starting at a blank page. Run a quick Google search for “list of values,” and you’ll find more than enough words to get the creative juices flowing. I’m partial to the lists curated by James Clear and Brené Brown, but honestly the list doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you choose a set of 3-5 words to which you feel an authentic connection. To do this, ask yourself some of these questions:
- Do I wish that people would use this value to describe me?
- Does this value feel authentically “me?” Do I see myself this way?
- How different of a person would I be if my actions and beliefs did not align with this value?
Go over your list with these questions again and again until you’re left with no more than 5. It’s important to start small when you’re doing this for the first time. You can always expand your list later, but generally speaking, less is more.
Step 2: Find motivational statements that speak to your values
Now it’s time to turn your values into declarative statements of truth about yourself. I include this step because you want your statements to speak to you in a more inspiring way than you already speak to yourself.
If you’re like me and you struggle with this, it makes sense to scour poke around Google and Reddit for topics like:
- “personal manifesto examples”
- “positive affirmations”
- “affirmations about [value]”
- “quotes about [value]”
Carefully comb through these options and choose from it the phrases that best articulate your stance on these values as they pertain to life on Earth. At this stage, you’re looking for compelling and motivating combinations of words—statements that speak to you. Here are some examples of phrases I found for the value Perseverance:
- “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
- “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” – John Lennon
- I am in the process of becoming the best version of myself.
- “No pressure, no diamonds.” – Thomas Carlyle
- Wake up with determination. Go to bed with satisfaction.
You get the idea. Perseverance is all about pushing past the obstacles that keep you from pursuing the outcomes you desire in life. And each of these statements, a mix of quotes, adages, and affirmations, gets at that idea in one way or another.
Step 3: Rewrite into concrete, declarative statements
Once you have your list of value-oriented statements, it’s time to put them in terms that motivate you. Don’t worry about making it unique to you; worry about making it mean something to you. No one is going to serve you a lawsuit for plagiarizing someone else’s motivational quote for your personal manifesto.
An Example: My Personal Manifesto
For example, my personal manifesto was inspired by this Reddit post, and if you look at it today there are still many very obvious similarities.
- I know the key to success is always to take action, even when I don’t feel ready for it.
- I create positive habits, and I know that progress comes little by little. By making a 1% improvement every day, my life will change dramatically over time.
- I know which actions bring me closer to my goals and which ones take me away from them. I focus on the former and work to eliminate the latter. Currently, these actions include spending high-quality time with Tina and Mika, exercise, meditation, writing, creating and checking off my to-do list each day, and reading this personal manifesto.
- I do not get down about my mistakes. The more I practice trying, failing, and learning, the easier it will become. I know the only thing that counts is what I do from now on.
- I know the only self I can control is my present self. That is why I focus all of my attention on this moment, letting go of any desire to change the past or influence the future.
- I know that working on a problem reduces my resistance to it. It’s harder to fear something when I am making progress on it — even if that progress is imperfect and slow. Action relieves anxiety.
- I strongly believe in the path I am on. I do not judge others, nor do I compare myself to others. Everyone is on their own path, and I will focus on mine.
- I know that how I do anything is how I do everything, and that there is no substitute for hard work. My dreams will not work unless I do.
Most of these statements map relatively cleanly to the original list of values I’d chosen in Step 1, but not all of them. #1, for example, speaks to the value of being proactive, one that didn’t make the cut in my original list. But after stumbling upon this statement, I found that the simple truth in these words was too important to leave out of my daily ritual.
Again, there’s no rulebook. Writing your manifesto is an organic, creative process that will take you different directions. Go where the process takes you.
That said, there are some principles to keep in mind to give your statements that added motivational punch:
Use the present tense. The present tense, as opposed to the future tense, forces your mind into the present moment.
Compare the statement, “I create positive habits,” to its future tense alternative, “I will create positive habits.”
The former forces you to accept this statement as truth of your current reality. The latter is a statement of intention, but it doesn’t carry the same urgent expectation that this is your behavior now.
Be authentic and believable. You don’t want to fill your manifesto with bold, sweeping statements that even you don’t believe to be true:
- I am rich and powerful.
- My mind is full of brilliant ideas.
- People are drawn to my infectious energy.
These are affirmations, and they serve a different purpose than the statements of truth in your personal manifesto. If your manifesto is your compass, affirmations like these are the winds propelling your ship into the distance.
Affirmations are useful tools in their own right. Repeating them with conviction is another way to “hack” the availability heuristic, pumping you up before an important interview or date.
Your manifesto is, importantly, a call to action. It should guide you on how you believe you should approach specific decisions in your life. One way to do this is to rewrite affirmations like this as action-outcome pairings.
In other words, if the action is “I am rich and powerful,” an action that leads to that might be “I work hard.” So your manifesto statement becomes, “I know that when I work hard, I will be rewarded with money and power.”
Use concrete language. Expanding on the point above, it’s absolutely critical that your manifesto statements be as concrete as they possibly can be. The more specific the statement, the more useful it will be.
Compare this statement:
I know which actions bring me closer to my goals and which ones take me away from them. I focus on the former and work to eliminate the latter. Currently, these actions include spending high-quality time with my wife and daughter, exercise, meditation, writing, creating and checking off my to-do list each day, and reading this personal manifesto.
To its less-specific alternative:
I know that some actions bring me closer to my goals, while others pull me away from them. I focus on the former and work to eliminate the latter.
While the latter option is shorter and easier to scan, it’s also an extremely obvious statement and doesn’t give you much more in the way of decision-making. It requires you to first think about what those positive actions are and then take action.
Your manifesto shouldn’t make you think. It should remind you of what you already know. Do the thinking now, and put it in your manifesto so you never forget.
Keep it short. I’ve seen manifestos that have twenty or more statements attached to them. My manifesto has expanded and contracted over the years. At its peak, I had 14 statements and even then it was starting to feel unruly.
You want your manifesto to be short enough to allow you to keep all of it in your head at once. There’s just no chance you’re going to keep 30 different statements top of mind, and as a result you lose the benefit of the availability heuristic.
I’m not saying you need to memorize every word of your manifesto, although if you’re reviewing it often enough, you undoubtedly will eventually. I’m simply suggesting that you prioritize the statements that you believe are so crucial to your day-to-day existence that you need to keep them top of mind.
How do I use a personal manifesto?
Now that you have your manifesto drafted, it’s time to put it to work. The final two steps should be done perpetually. The more you do them, the stronger the manifesto will be come, and the more it will influence your mindset and your behaviors.
Step 4: Create a daily habit
Read your manifesto to yourself at least once per day. Ideally you would read it aloud to yourself. Of course reading it silently is fine as well if reading aloud is not appropriate given your surroundings.
I set reminders on my phone to revisit my manifesto three times per day throughout the day.
I try to approach the reading the same way I approach meditation. I look for a moment when I can find a quiet place where I’ll be undisturbed for a few minutes.
And I do my best to keep my mind focused on the task at hand. It can be easy for the mind to wander when reading the same words day after day. But when the mind wanders, I acknowledge the disturbance, and I return to where I’d left off before my mind had disengaged. This sometimes results in me re-reading the same statement three or four or sometimes many more times than that.
My rule of thumb is that I don’t move off one statement and onto the next until I’m satisfied that I’ve fully internalized its meaning.
Step 5: Live mindfully and revise often
Finally, your manifesto is not going to have longevity if it remains a static document. Over the course of your life, you will face a wide variety of people and experiences. What you believed to be true about yourself when you first write your manifesto is bound to change in the weeks, months, and years to come.
For this reason, it’s important that you do your best to live each day as mindfully as possible. Pay attention to the decisions you make and the perceptions about the world that drive those decisions. As soon as you identify something that doesn’t line up with your manifesto, review it again and consider making space for it.
Similarly, if you feel as though there’s a statement in your manifesto that no longer seems to be resonating with you, ask yourself why? Is this still something you need to be reminded of? Is this thing still true? Perhaps you need to rephrase the statement to make it more specific to the challenges you’re currently facing in life. In many cases, you might decide to cut the statement entirely, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Your manifesto needs to remain relevant, and you need to remain engaged with it.
If you let it grow stale, you’ll lose all the benefit of having a document that contains a forceful statement of your authentic personal truth.
It’s for this reason that I’m also a fan of maintaining your manifesto in digital format. The benefit of digital is that it goes with you everywhere and you can make changes on the fly. I’m constantly tweaking individual words to sound more natural.
As I evaluate new statements to add to my manifesto, I’ll first draft them in a separate note to make sure they sound right and aren’t duplicative with something I already have. Once I’m satisfied, I’ll copy and paste the new statement in.
The same goes for statements that I decide to remove. I never totally delete a statement (or anything, for that matter). Instead, I’ll paste them into my working note file which I look at periodically. In the past, I’ve realized after removing a statement that all I needed was a little more time and perspective to reframe the statement in a way that would work for me. Had I deleted the statement entirely, I’d be stuck having to remember what I originally wrote or even worse, forgetting I’d written it at all.
I hope this has been a helpful introduction to what really is one of the most powerful self-improvement techniques I’ve adopted in my adult life. A thoughtfully constructed and maintained manifesto will always be there to remind you what the best version of yourself actually looks like so that you can be that person when the need to do so presents itself.