New Year’s resolutions aren’t enough. A life plan can help you achieve the goals you want for your career, relationships, health and more.
Your life should be one of your best laid plans.
To live the life you want to live — everything from a fulfilling career to retiring at an early age to rewarding relationships — you need to create a detailed, multi-year “life plan” that maps out the things you want to achieve in life and when and how you will attain them, experts tell Moneyish. “Frequently, I remind my patients of the importance of identifying priorities and establishing a plan of action to achieve life goals,” says Jodi J. De Luca, a clinical psychologist at Erie Colorado Counseling. “You navigate the course of your life.”
Moneyish spoke to experts and others who have created a life plan for themselves to find out how to do it smartly. Here’s how you can create a plan that will help you lead the life you want.
Step 1: Meditate on this question: “What is it that you want out of life?
Every year, Samantha Salmon journals about what she wants from 12 areas of her life: finances, career, education, health, physical activity, home cooking, home environment, relationships, social life, joy, spirituality and creativity. “I meditate on each of these and really visualize myself feeling my best and contemplate what I am doing in each of these areas. How do I want this area to look or improve?” the health coach tells Moneyish. “I accomplish most of my intentions this way.”
Former Nike executive Lee Weinstein, who wrote the book, “Write, Open, Act: An Intentional Life Planning Workbook,” says digging into what you want in different areas of your life is exactly how you should start creating a life plan. Spend a few days — either alone or with a partner or friend — looking at what you want out of life in the next year, few years, five years, and then longer term, he says.
To figure this out, ask yourself questions like: “What’s working in your life and what’s not?,” “What did you dream about achieving as a child and an adult?”, “What is lacking in your life that you still want to accomplish?”, “If you had to create a mission statement for your life, what would it look like? and “If you only had six months to live, what would you do?”. When probing what you want out of life, tackle five key areas — personal, family, career, spirituality, and community, says Chanel Dokun, relationship expert and founder of LifePlan NYC. Take notes as you’re thinking through each area of your life and what you want it to look like.
Step 2: Turn those meditations into written-out goals with plans attached
Spend a day — phone off — turning your notes on what you want out of life into concrete, achievable goals. Be as specific as possible, says Dr. Ty Belknap, the CEO of MyCoach.Life. So, for example, if you want to get healthier, visualize what that looks like and write out what that means to you: does it mean lose 15 pounds or cook more at home? Then pen down how you’ll achieve that goal: Will you go to the gym three times per week and cook at home thrice weekly?
Consider both short-term things you want to get done (switch jobs, renovate your house) and long-term goals (retire at 50, change careers). This guide can help you pick smart goals and develop detailed plans for achieving them.
Step 3: Put your goals on a timeline
Each year, Weinstein and his wife create a timeline with each coming year on it, as well as the timing of big events like when they want to retire, have kids, even when they think they’ll die. “Our first plan was 12 feet long,” Weinstein jokes.
Once that’s done, they put their goals on sticky notes, making sure they have a maximum of three to 10 goals in a given year, and place them where appropriate. Each goal should have a target date attached to it. “Setting priorities and goals with deadline dates helps the brain organize and compartmentalize tasks,” says De Luca. That means that the “execution of the tasks are clarified, and successful goal achievement is more likely to be accomplished,” she adds. Try to limit your total number of goals so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Don’t worry, you don’t immediately have to start racing towards all your goals at once. For a goal that won’t happen until 30 years on — like, say, saving $2 million for retirement — you might vow to automatically start putting 10% of your income this year into your 401(k); do that in the next few days and then don’t worry about the goal for the rest of the year.
Step 4: Prepare for setbacks
You probably won’t accomplish all your goals in the timeline you give yourself — but Weinstein, who says he has accomplished about 90% of his targets, still puts the goals on sticky notes so they can be moved. To address these setbacks before they start, life coach Claire Pearson says you should take stock of past successes and failures. Then, she says, ask yourself about current goals, “What could go wrong? How do you prepare for that?”.
It also helps if you have someone serve as your “accountability partner” to keep you on track, says social workers Julia Colangelo. And avoid “holding yourself to an unreasonable standard” (in other words, work towards achievable goals), she adds.
Step 5: Post your life plan somewhere you can often see it
The key to achieving these life goals is keeping them front and center in your life so you can revisit them, experts say. Weinstein and his wife keep their life plan in the hallway in their home; ensuring their goals remain top of mind and inspirational. “Hope remains perhaps one of our most powerful tools for coping with the many challenges that life presents, and for guiding us toward change for the better,” says De Luca.
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