Plan Your Better Life

I set out to make 2018 a year of intentional improvement.

Here at the blog, that is manifested in devoting each month to a different theme. We’re looking at all different angles of life and how to make it better.

Map out your life planTime seems to be moving quickly and we are coming up on the end of January, which is life planning month.

To close out, I want to run through the things that we’ve learned and the action steps we can take as well as the steps that I will actually be taking in my own life. The former will be the subject of today’s post, while Tuesday will be a discussion of the latter.

I hope that you’ll share your takeaways and any action steps that you plan to take. We can keep each other accountable.

How to Live a Better Life

First we looked at the basics of life planning.

If we want to live our best possible life, we need to take control and be intentional.

We can be happier, wealthier, more successful, and more productive! It’s realistic and achievable! But we need to make sure that we are intentional about it.

To figure out the best way forward, we first need to figure out who we want to be and what we want to do.

Who Do You Want to Be?

Asking who you want to be feels abstract and unnecessary. It’s hard to connect it to reality.

But it’s also important. Knowing who you want to be establishes your values and priorities. It creates a north star that guides your decision making.

You can get through life just fine without answering this question. But if you want to live a better life, don’t skip this step.

There are a number of different ways to figure out who you want to be.

The most popular is to imagine your funeral. What do you want people to say about you after you pass? What would they say if you died today? What can you do to close that gap?

Another way is to think about what type of people you want your kids to be. Kids learn by watching their parents, so be the person that you want your kids to become.

Don’t have kids? Or don’t think you can be the person you want them to be? Then just pretend! It is easier to act our way into a new way of thinking than to think our way into a new way of acting. If you’re struggling to think of yourself as a more charitable person, then just start acting the way a more charitable person would act. Eventually your brain will catch up.

What Do You Want to Do?

Once we figure out who we want to be, we need to figure out what we want to do.

This involves asking three questions over and over about each area of your life that you’d like to improve:

Where are you? Where do you want to go? How do you get there?

The first step in mapping out any route is to know where you’re starting from. As much as we like to idealize the fresh start, we are all somewhere already. We each have a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and experiences.

Once we know where we are, we need to understand where we want to go. Let’s say you’re trying to improve your physical health. What does that look like? Are you trying to be a weightlifting champion or a marathon runner? Or are you trying to lose ten pounds and not feel out of breath by the time you reach the top of the stairs? We need to be clear on our destination before planning our route.

Finally, we plan our route. We know where we are. We know where we’re going. Now we need to plan out what steps to take to get from A to B.

The Importance of Balance

After getting the basics down, we moved into exploring the things that we need to keep in mind when we are planning our route. First among those is the importance of balance.

The fastest route to fame and fortune is probably a single-minded focus on one aspect of your life. I’ve read enough biographies not to argue with that.

The problem is that those biographies are also filled with unhappiness.

If we want both success and happiness, we need to make sure to give attention to all of the different areas of our lives. We cannot ignore our marriage to further our career success. We cannot ignore our health to have more time for our relationships. We cannot ignore our finances to further our friendships.

We need to keep life in balance.

Set Smaller Goals

We also need to consider how best to stick to our goals.

Everyone has big dreams. Most get abandoned along the way. It’s easy to give up when you hit roadblocks and feel failure.

For that reason, it’s very important that whatever changes you make to try to improve your life are sustainable.

This doesn’t mean giving up on achieving big results! Starting small allows you to consistently build upon your prior success. If you can improve a skill by 0.2% every day, the magic of compounding returns means that you will double your ability over the course of a year.

But you need to be able to do a little bit every single day, whether you feel motivated or not.

Making Big Changes

Small changes are great, but sometimes they just aren’t possible.

You either have a child or you don’t. You either quit your job or you don’t. Some things don’t have dimmers. They’re either on or off.

For those things we need to know how to analyze risk and decide whether to make the leap.

We need to remember that we all have a status quo bias. We’re all naturally afraid of change. It’s built into our brain over millions of years of evolution.

This means that our instincts are going to be more against change than is rational. If you’re at a point where you’re seriously considering making a big change, then you should probably do it.

Also, make sure that you consider the cost of inaction. Doing nothing is our default when we face hard choices. But doing nothing has costs as well. Think about your life in six months, a year, three years. What would doing nothing look like? Are you still okay with not making the change?

Set Goals That Scare You

Finally, we looked at setting goals that scare us.

Sometimes our fear is just fear. We’re afraid of public speaking or small spaces and that leads us to feel fear.

But sometimes it lets us know that something is more important to us than we realize.

A fear of failure can cause us to procrastinate and avoid things that we really want to do.

If we never try, we can never fail! But if we never try, then what type of life are we really living?

Use your fear to identify priorities and learn how to overcome that fear to achieve your goals.

We can never eliminate fear, but we can get better at fighting it. Fighting fear is like a muscle that gets stronger the more often we do it. Start with small fears to get some muscle and then work your way up to the big stuff.

Other ways to combat fear include having an accountability buddy, thinking about what you’d regret not doing in ten years, and examining our fear and whether it makes sense.

Join the Conversation!

By following these steps we can make a plan to live a better life. You’ll see what I’m doing to follow these steps on Tuesday.

What are you doing? Do you have plans that you’re working on? What are your strategies for living a better life? Let us know in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “Plan Your Better Life”

    1. 100%. I always cringe when I read FIRE blogs advocating major sacrifice now so that you can reach financial independence sooner. I want to shake them and tell them that happiness is not something you pick up as a trophy at a finish line. You have to find it in the journey.

      Thanks, Brad!
      Matt recently posted…My Better LifeMy Profile

  1. This post is a great summary of the best series of posts I’ve read all month. Well done. If this post is not cornerstone content, I don’t know what is. I feel like I’ve done a good job following these steps lately but that’s not enough. I plan to revisit this posts each year to make sure I’m on track. Thank you for creating such great content!
    Jason@WinningPersonalFinance recently posted…Pay Off Debt or Invest Interview 1 (Winning Personal Finance)My Profile

  2. “Sometimes our fear is just fear…But sometimes it lets us know that something is more important to us than we realize…Use your fear to identify priorities and learn how to overcome that fear to achieve your goals.” Wow. This is so true – and it’s not something I would have been able to put into words. Thank you:)
    My big area of improvement has been in finances, and sometimes I think, “Man! I’ve been doing this for a long time!” And I have. Almost 6 years of debt-repayment now. When I started, I wanted the freedom that comes with debt-freedom – and we’re going to reach that debt-free destination this year! It’s exciting to start off on a new goal when you’re really psyched about it. Staying power is key. You have to find it within yourself to keep going even when the “psyched” phase is over.
    Now I’m thinking about “What’s next?” And I know what I want that to be, but the fear thing comes in. So back to my first point: Thank you.

    1. Congrats on the end of your debt journey! That’s a huge accomplishment. 6 years of staying power is definitely impressive. Good luck with your next phase. I know you’ll figure it out and do great!

      Thanks, Prudence!
      Matt recently posted…My Better LifeMy Profile

  3. You are so good at dissecting complicated issues/decisions and making them look simple.

    I’ve been coasting a little but mainly concentrating on the new house so that we can sell our current one, tie up a lot of loose ends here and plans some more extensive travel.

    Congratulations on the new baby!
    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…Honor Begets Financial DividendsMy Profile

    1. Thank you, Mrs. G! The new house looks like a major project on its own, so I have no doubt that it is getting a lot of focus right now. I’d be excited to read about new travel if it makes it into the blog, for sure. Let me know if you plan to swing by the DC area at all!
      Matt recently posted…My Better LifeMy Profile

  4. I’m so lame. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos of a 5’7″ guy who can slam dunk a basketball. And now I want to be able to jump up and touch the rim. At my age, dunking may be a bridge too far. But touching the rim is doable–at least in my twisted mind. So that’s my new mission. Touch the rim. I’ll keep you posted, my friend. Great post. And congratulations on Baby Optimize. It must be awesome holding your own son. Cheers.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…Honor Begets Financial DividendsMy Profile

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