How to Plan Your Life

2018 has been a pretty big year.

New baby. New job. And lots of introspection and self improvement.

Around the blog we’ve been focusing on a different subject each month and learning everything that we can in order to try to live a happier, wealthier, more productive life.

Because we’ve covered so much ground, I wanted to take some time to review rather than plowing through to a new topic. Learning new things is great. But it’s tempting to learn them, move on, and forget them.

Because these are all things I want to incorporate into my life on a permanent basis, it is worth doubling back to revisit, both as a reminder and to measure how I’ve done.

Today we’re going to start by reviewing our January topic: life planning.

How to Live a Better Life

We started with a broad exploration of how to live a better life.

I’m someone that has historically tended towards the path of least resistance. For someone like me, the road to a better life starts with making plans and being intentional. Life planning.

There are two major ways to approach life planning, both based around root questions.

The first is: What do you want to do? This involves figuring out what you want to accomplish, what goals you want to set, and where you want to go in life.

The second is: Who do you want to be? This approach focuses more on your values and how you want people to remember you.

Who Do You Want to Be?

There are a few different exercises that can be useful in making your plans if you want to follow the “Who do you want to be?” path.

The most common is to imagine your funeral. What do you want people to say about you? What do you want the eulogies to include? What legacy do you want to leave?

A slight variation on this is to imagine your death bed. What would you regret? What would you wish you spent more time doing? What would you wish you had done differently?

Through either of these exercises you can find places where your ideal life doesn’t align with how you’re currently living. Find the gaps and work to close them. Take steps from the person you are towards the person you want to be.

Another lesson that has stuck with me this year is to be the kind of person you hope your kids will become. Children learn by observing, so make sure they are observing what they need to become the best versions of themselves.

What Do You Want to Do?

If you are making you plan based on what you want to do, there is a somewhat different path to follow. This involves taking each area of your life and asking three questions:

Where are you?

Where do you want to go?

How do you get there?

Figure out what area of your life you want to focus on first, and then work your way through those three questions. It sounds simple, but you’ll want to plan plenty of time to think through a full and honest assessment of each question.

As a starting point for figuring out the areas of your life that might deserve some attention, Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy recommend the following in their life-planning book Living Forward:

  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Jobs
  • Hobbies
  • Finances
  • Social
  • Marriage
  • Parenting

The Importance of Balance

Addressing more than one area from that list is important. The long list of people with successful careers and failed relationships shows us how important balance is to a happy life.

We have a tendency to focus on money and success in our careers. And those things are great! But money and a career are not a full life. Without a social life and hobbies and other things going for us, there will be an emptiness that we can’t conquer.

Many of the most “successful” people have huge failures in other parts of their lives and we should take that as a warning. Don’t let success in one area of your life cost you success in the rest.

Happiness requires balance.

Set Smaller Goals

We then moved from big picture concepts into more of the nitty gritty of life planning, starting with setting smaller goals.

It’s easy to dream big when you have motivation and inspiration. We want to shoot for the stars and make big changes in our lives.

The problem is that motivation and inspiration inevitably dry up. Knowing this, we need to set ourselves up to keep working towards our goals when they do.

By setting small, sustainable goals in the short term, we can build habits that build upon themselves. Once we hit one goal we can set the next, but it is much easier to stay motivated with a step ladder of goals rather than a giant leap.

These small steps will bring us compounding returns on our hard work in the same way that investing brings compounding returns to our money.

Taking Big Leaps

Sometimes, however, small changes don’t get the job done. Sometimes big changes are the answer.

If taking the next step means leaving for a new job or moving to a new state or expanding your family, there are no small steps to build up to it. In that case, you need to take the leap.

The thing to remember in these scenarios is that our brains are fighting against us.

Humans suffer from a status quo bias. We instinctively fear change. We’ve been evolutionarily designed to be overly cautious when it comes to risk-taking.

This means that if you are seriously considering a change, you are probably past the point where you should have made it. If whether to make a big change is a toss up in your mind, choose to make the change.

Remember: Not making a choice is also a choice. You are choosing to keep your life the way it is. Don’t let outdated evolutionary tics make your life decisions for you.

Set Goals That Scare You

On a related note, we want to be sure to set goals that scare us.

Just like our status quo bias, our fears are built into us by evolution. This means that sometimes fear tells us that something we’re doing is dangerous and that we need to stop. That’s good. Stop doing that thing.

Sometimes fear is an outdated instinct. Fight or flight might have been good options to choose from when facing a giant cat with sharp teeth, but a judge would frown upon me following either of those paths in a courtroom.

Sometimes, though, fear tells us that something is more important than we realized.

Have you ever found a posting for what seemed like your dream job, but then you never got around to applying to it? This is where our fear flags something as important for us.

I am someone that has been particularly susceptible to procrastination to the point of self-sabotage. I never wanted to fail at important things, so I just avoided them altogether. Now I have a great track record of never failing. But I also constantly regret never coming anywhere close to fulfilling my potential.

Leaning into fear is hard. We’re fighting evolution. But we can get there if we are mindful, make small steps, and keep working to build that muscle.

Join the Conversation!

And those are the takeaways from life planning month! What do you think? What else would you have included? What areas do you want to work on? Let us know in the comments!

One thought on “How to Plan Your Life”

  1. Yeah, from following your blog you’ve had a *huge* year.

    I’ve had a pretty big year too, but not nearly as successful in terms of achieving my goals as I’d have liked. I’ve met my obligations to others but not to myself. 🙁

    I’m starting to think about 2019 and trying to reboot my attitude a little for a fresh start.

    Good luck for your next year as well, Matt!

    Mark | Productive Physician recently posted…The Weekly Review: Conquer your Overwhelm in an hour each week!My Profile

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