Every now and then we do things that completely turn our lives inside out.
Like drop out of grad school without a job, or a degree, or a clue. It's fine. When you decide to hop out of the speeding bus and look around, sometimes you need to reassess. Now that I'm off the metaphorical bus, where am I going? If you're now on, say, a metaphorical highway, you need a way to get to your next stop that doesn't involve walking along a dusty gravel road with no rest (i.e.: shitty minimum wage job).
Enter the path plan. You might not be able to figure out everything in just a few minutes, but you can answer a few simple questions that will give you a purpose, a direction, a clear destination.
Now, these few minutes are meant to be packed. They're a brainstorming session that will lead you to further exploration of each of the aspects of The Plan. Get a pen, or crayon, or a marker, and some paper, because it's much easier to do this sort of thing on a big, messy page. This way, you can also get a little bit creative, writing key words in big bold bright letters. This way, you can write with a gold sharpie or a purple crayon.
1. How do you want to feel in five years?
No, seriously. Society tells us when we plan that we have to think:
What do I want to be? in five years.
Or what do I want to be doing?
Or What things do I want in five years?
And these are all valid. They will all be part of your plan— but not yet. First, you have to think about how you want to feel. We're told that a house, a steady career, a car, a kid, a dog, are the things that we want to strive for when we plan. These things will make us happy. But what if you want to travel around India with a sweaty backpack? What if you want to climb mountains, or start an NGO, or become a Buddhist nun? If these are the things that will make you happy, then starting off your plan aiming for The Life isn't going to get you there.
So write it out in big, bold words. How do you want to feel in five years? Happy? Fulfilled? Busy? Appreciated? Seen? Powerful? These will all lead you in different directions, possibly down roads you didn't expect.
2. Look back to look forward.
It can be hard to really visualize the scope of what may transpire in the next five years. Humans are not really good at this kind of thinking. We like the immediate. We can grasp five days much better than five years, just as we can visualize five feet with ease, and five hundred feet with difficulty.
It can help in this situation to look back. To get an idea of how much can be accomplished in five years (and this may have been without a concrete plan, even), consider your last five years. Do you remember five years ago where you thought you would be today? Does it look the same? What have you achieved in the last five years? What did you NOT achieve that you would have liked? This is not an exercise in regret. Chances are, you will have done a whole lot more in the last five years than you may think. Five years ago, I would never have envisioned the life I'm leading right now to be the life that I would have. My plans, my position in life, have changed radically (mostly in a good way, I would say).
So, if you were able to come so far in only five years without a goal-driven, passion-driven plan, what can you do in the next five years WITH one?
3. Avoid nebulous goals.
I am not telling you to make boring goals. Dream big. Dream wild. Aim for ridiculous things you think you might never achieve (even if you fail, you have achieved half of a ridiculous thing). Make more goals than you can accomplish. Make them varied. Make them fun.
But make them specific. I often catch myself wanting to make goals such as:
Eat less junk food.
Be outside more.
Enjoy little moments.
Which are all fantastic things to aim for. But how do you know when you've arrived? When can you say AH! This is the exact amount of outdoorsiness that I was hoping to achieve. If you don't state it, it becomes hard to recognize the moment when it arrives— or it may never arrive at all. These are all end results you can aim for, but you have to put a plan in place to get there. How many times a week are you going outside? How are you going to reflect on these little moments enjoyed? How often are you going to allow yourself a junk food treat? That way, when you stick to them, you know.
It's much easier to get to a goal that can have clear steps in between.
4. What can I do tomorrow?
For some goals, you have to make the steps to small, so achievable, that you can think: What can I do tomorrow? What am I doing in the short term that is leading me to The Epic Goal? Am I making sure I'm buying lots of healthy fruit and veg, making my own granola and yogurt so that I don't have to resort to junk in a pinch? If you're not planning for the everyday manifestations of your goals, things are going to get really difficult.
And it's easier to look at goals this way. Things you can achieve in a few hours, or a day are much easier to accomplish and feel good about than looking five months ahead and feeling like you aren't there yet (and this is why you should make lists, my friends).
5. Don't forget to feed your goals.
Make a plan to check in on your goals every now and then, and see how they're doing— whether that's a monthly check-in, or a yearly check-in. You'll be surprised how your goals have grown and changed— maybe into a completely different goal— while they've been incubating.
And it's okay for them to change. You haven't failed if you've decided that your original goal is not really what you want anymore, or if something has changed in your life that makes that goal no longer reasonable.
By checking in on your goals, you're able to assess if what you've been doing to get there is working, or if you need to make further changes in order to bring yourself closer to your goal.
6. Make list. Break List.
Goals are not always positive— and by this I mean, they're not always the addition of something. Sometimes in order to achieve a goal of I want to gain x, you may have to get rid of some other thing in the process. If you want to become more minimalist, your goals are going to involved getting rid of your stuff. A good way to do this is to a make a sort of pro-con list, which I called the Make-Break list.
In one column, write all the things you want to add, all the habits you want to form, and in the other, all the things you're getting rid of, all the habits you want to break (and apparently, some argue it takes 28 days to make or break a habit). You'll begin to see how each of these are related, and it will better enable you to make a day-to-day plan for how to achieve your goals. (I also wrote an epic post about the science behind making and breaking habits in three easy steps, and I recommend checking that out right now).
"If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done."
7. Find joy.
The thing about goals is that they often have you looking ahead, and striving forward for things in the future. That's why they're goals. You can't really separate this from them, but you can prevent it from getting too out of hand. It's easy to see how this could happen. I have goals from five years from now, and in five years, I will have a further five-year plan. So while I may achieve some of those goals, I'm never there. There is a danger in only concentrating on what you haven't achieved, and what you will get in the future.
I will be happy when I have a job.
Everything will be better when I just have my own house.
Everything will be easier when I have more money.
These sorts of ideas will forever be your leprechaun, your pot of gold, your mirage in the desert, which ever move further away the closer you get. I too fall into this trap. I think that things will just be better/easier/more fun/etc, WHEN I achieve thing x. And it's just not true. It's wonderful to strive for things, but you have to find joy and happiness in all the steps in between. FInd joy in the little goals, between Now and The Big Goal.
Enjoy the process.
Be aware of the progress you are making each and every day, and remember that you can find happiness at any stage of the process.
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*This post originally appeared on my mindful blogging and business blog The House of Muses.