I’m really into making life plans. As a procrastinator who wants everything to go right, making multiple life plans is the perfect way for me to avoid actually executing the plan. When I was young, I was that tween who bought a lot of journals and planners and stationary. I’m going to write and plan and correspond! That didn’t happen. Instead of focusing on my plan, I became focused on my tools.
Thankfully, over time, I’ve discovered the best ways for me to actually help me life plan. Sometimes they involve tools, but they usually just take some time and some tough questions. Here’s what works for me:
1. Monthly resolutions – My best friend S and I began a tradition of spending New Year’s Eve together. Two years ago, we did what we inevitably always do – vent about the parts of our life that aren’t working out and lament about the things we wish we could improve. A bottle of wine later, we’d returned to our childhood tendencies of making resolutions. But this time we really wanted to have resolve! So we each made a list of pie-in-the-sky resolutions. Then we narrowed them down to our most important ones.
Here’s the twist. Each month, we would write out some monthly goals that would help us reach our resolutions. We emailed each other regularly about the progress of each goal.
We celebrated each other’s achievements. We cheered each other on. And when we didn’t meet a goal, we told each other why. Sometimes it was because we realized we didn’t really care about the goal as much as we thought (eg. giving up social media). Sometimes it was because it was too scary (eg. visiting the dentist). We pushed each other.
It’s a tried and true method for many, which I didn’t realize until I’d read The Happiness Project. As any good resolution-related blog post will tell you, it isn’t enough to make an ambitious set of goals one day out of the year and hope to follow them. You need to break each goal down into manageable steps. You need support from your friends and loved ones. You need to keep track of your progress. You need to celebrate the small wins. You need to examine what’s holding you back from the things you want to achieve. It’s harder than a day spent making lists, but it’s also much more rewarding.
2. A vision board – I was a couple of years out of college, trying to think about a real career path, when I read about the concept of a vision board. I have to admit, it sounded ludicrous. Especially because a lot of the so-called “testimonies” I’d read were a bit too hoaky for me. Just draw or collage together the things that you want and then ten years later, you’ll pull it out and realize it all came true! I’m hopeful but not naive.
Still, I liked the idea of setting aside an afternoon to do something I hadn’t done since I was a kid – flip through magazines and cut out stuff. It felt silly, but I pushed passed my judgment, and ended up with a half poster board of aesthetically pleasing words and images that resonated with the life I’m working towards. When I looked it, I felt calmer somehow. It doesn’t always help me to articulate everything into clear cut goals and resolutions. Sometimes I need to just look at something visual. I don’t stare at it for hours, but when I catch a glance of it above my desk at home, I’m able to think about what things I’ve achieved and what things I’m working towards.
I recommend it. No one has to see it or know about it except for you!
3. A vision statement – My biggest problem with life planning is this – how can you life plan if you don’t have any sense of what you want or what you like? What if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? What if you aren’t sure what kind of relationship you want to have with your future partner or friends? Life planning gets bogged down by a million questions that often feel too overwhelming – leaving you with the perfect opportunity to just give up planning altogether. For those who aren’t into crafts on poster board, I recommend the vision statement.
Every stable nonprofit has a good vision statement. Unlike a mission statement, that outlines what an organization does, a vision statement outlines what an organization ultimately wants to accomplish. Get rid of poverty. Provide safe housing for everyone. Eradicate illiteracy.
Sometimes we get caught up in the goals and the resolutions, we aren’t even sure where we’re trying to go. Stepping back and really owning the big picture can be valuable.
I avoided writing a vision statement for a long time – it really freaked me out and I hated the idea of not knowing exactly what I wanted. But like any process, you don’t need to get every single thing right the first time. Just start typing about what kind of life you want to have. Who are you hanging out with? What kinds of stuff do you do to fill your days? What makes life feel worthwhile? Really get in the details as much as you can.
The most important takeaway I learned from this process is that you don’t need to know exactly how you will get there. Just focus on how you feel and what makes you happy. My vision statement ended up being 3 pages of run on sentences. I wasn’t able to identify a career, or the city where I lived, or what kind of house I live in, or anything like that. But I was able to focus on the details that I knew I wanted – a life filled with good food for example. A solid and stable relationship. Good friends that live close by. Work that makes me feel important and efficient.
So there you have it. My three life planning methods. Let me know if any of these have worked for you, or if you’ve hated them all, or if there’s an even better way to plan your life that I haven’t yet discovered. Looking forward to it!