Counseling,  Making Changes

My Plan to Make a Plan

There is a cranky part of me who just loves New Years resolutions. It is this critical voice in my head that thinks, “Finally, I have another chance to whip this women into shape!” (Notice that the underlying notion is that I am not okay as I am). The list of resolutions (read that improvements) is about the same every year.

I will cook healthy meals.
I will exercise five times a week.
I will live within my budget.
I will make not mistakes.
I will save the planet.
I will alleviate all suffering.

Those of you who know me know that this New Year’s Resolution process isn’t working very well. Just thinking of all the things I need to do flawlessly makes me want to lie down on the couch, eat a cookie and tune in to the shopping channel.

When it comes to planning our futures, some of us drift aimlessly from day to day, year-to-year, with little focus or long-term direction. Others, a small minority, meticulously set goals and ruthlessly conform to a never-ending regimen of daily planners, color-coded to-do lists, sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, and time-management seminars. Most of us however, fall somewhere in-between. We look ahead and think about the future, and either set specific goals or we have some notion of what we’d like to do, even if we haven’t written down exactly how we intend to do it.

We probably think things through carefully for major decisions, and the small ones, such as how to spend each hour, are largely guided by an intuitive sense of what’s important at that moment. If you fall into this category of being “goal-oriented” but not “goal-obsessed,” let me share a few tips to help you make a plan without becoming a slave to the process.

1. Choose the Right Goal (or Goals). It is crucial that you believe your goal is attainable, otherwise you won’t even try, so it is important to spend time clarifying why you want the goal, what you may have to give up in the process, and whether the tradeoff is true to your deepest values. I promise, if I could alleviate all suffering, I would, really, but that may be a bit unrealistic. I may need to revise my goal to “I will make a conscious effort to lighten the load of each person who sits with me in my office.”

2. Make The Goals Official. At a minimum write them down. It’s fine to have wide-ranging ideas about what you’d like to do, but writing them down makes it more of a commitment. And if you’re really brave, you might find someone with whom you can exchange goals.

3. Create a Plan. But make it reasonable, most people who set goals fail because the plan is just too difficult. If my goal is to exercise five times a week, a good plan might be to start with two days, and once I become accustomed to that, add another day until I am up to five.

4. Stay Flexible. Life throws surprises at us, so any good plan allows for contingencies. As for my plan to live within my budget, it turns out I may need to dip into the “saving for a new car” part of my budget because I forgot the category “new roof”. It also helps to periodically review each goal to make sure it’s still something you really want.

My plan right at this moment is to go to the gym, then buy healthy groceries. I have no idea how long this goal will last, but I’m in for today. Confucius summed it up nicely when he said,

“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

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