Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You Gotta Have a Plan

It's time to continue self-improvement week on the blog (if you missed it, check out articles here and here from earlier in our series), and we're going to continue with probably my favorite thing in the world: planning.  As one of the most Type-A people I know, I am constantly planning.  I regularly work on goals for myself, and while I don't always accomplish them, I have a pretty proven track record, I must say.  When I want something to be true about my life, I generally try to make it happen.  It's something that people around me would acknowledge, and occasionally (this is going to be a braggy post, so I apologize in advance-search through the blog, I'm sure I say terrible things about myself frequently) I even get asked for advice on how I work toward goals.

The reality is that you have to want something really badly, and that's the ultimate key.  Despite maxims like "good things come for those who wait," the reality is that good things happen for those who go out and make them happen for themselves.  Good things take hard work, dedication, and persistence-otherwise everyone would have them and we would have them already.  But they also take an incredible amount of planning, and so I would recommend if you're someone who regularly trips up on falling behind on a specific goal (or a lot of goals) that you give these five steps a shot:

1. Don't Jump Right In

I think the worst thing that someone can do if they are trying to accomplish something, whether that's finding a new job or losing fifty pounds or starting online dating or even trying to sort out their finances is to jump in without a plan.  It's a bad idea, primarily because you won't know what to do when you get to that step.  Instead, take some time with yourself and a piece of paper (and don't give me that bull that you have absolutely no time-even the busiest of people can find a spare hour if they give up watching some TV or stay up a little later than usual) and actually create a game plan.  People who jump head first into a complex problem rarely actually accomplish it-planning is key.

2. Make a List

If you're working on a specific set of goals, it's key to make a list.  I personally spent an entire weekend once working on a bucket list-100 Things I Wanted to Do Before I Died.  A major set of goals, and some of them would take years.  The reason I set these out was because I wanted to have an idea of where my free time, my life, and my ambitions should be pointed-people with arbitrary bucket list items rarely get the really big ones done unless they are actually pursuing them.

So make a list.  Start with a mind dump of all of the things you want to accomplish.  It doesn't have to be as bold as a lifetime list, but we're about to start autumn-what about a list for the final four months of the year?  Be sure to be realistic (you cannot lose 100 pounds by Christmas, but you can certainly start off on that adventure), but also be very clear about the goals you want to accomplish so that when you check in on them (and I suggest you do that, at least once a month, if not more depending on how easy it is for you to stray from them) you are seeing if you are doing what you set out to do.

3. Be Prepared to Juggle Goals

Here's probably the harshest truth about a goal-you cannot just focus on it.  The rest of your life will continue around you, and I think this is probably the hardest part for most people to get over.  Most people see their lives as already full: they have their jobs, their families, their social lives, and their current hobbies and cannot fathom adding in another item.  They reason that once things stop being so busy they will be able to find that perfect guy or write that novel or lose that weight.

The problem is that life has a way of filling itself up.  No one plans on, say, having a storm hit their house so that they have to re-shingle the roof or receiving extra responsibility at work that takes up more of our time.  Soon learning how to knit or finally reading all of Shakespeare's plays goes by the wayside and becomes a pipe dream we comfort ourselves with while we're having a bad day at the office.  The reality is that if you don't start, you'll never finish, so even if it's something small (and if we make it a priority, we can always find a little bit of time), start it as soon as you're done preparing, and don't get deterred the first time the day is so crazy that you can't work on your project.  Brush yourself off, and make sure that you push it back to the front tomorrow.  Like I said-anything worth having is a lot of work, so be prepared to mix that in with your current life.

4. Realize What Success Looks Like

Here's where I think people run into the most trouble-they don't know what the end result is, and therefore they don't have that extra bit of oomph to keep going.  I don't recommend that you necessarily tell someone what this is (if you're trying to get to fifty pounds lost, for example, people don't need to know that unless they are your doctor or trainer), but you need to know so that you can revel in your progress.  If you're simply losing weight with no end plan in mind, you won't have that additional spur of excitement when you, say, hit halfway to the finish line.  Worse yet, you may end earlier than you wanted to and then you won't feel as strong about what you accomplished.

That being said, the point of success is what you want to happen.  Take the weight example here-you might be trying to attract that cute guy in your office or have everyone notice how skinny you have become, but you should want to do these goals for yourself, and if you don't (not all of us are that altruistic), you need to have that be your measure of your success, because the other thing might not happen.  The cute guy may be too daft to realize how amazing you are and your friends may not be the sort of people who notice when you lose weight (confession time-this is me; I have had friends that have lost thirty pounds and I never noticed, mostly because I don't really look at people that way, and I feel bad because I want them to notice when I lose weight).  You can share your wins with your friends and family (and that cute guy); in fact, I encourage it.  But have your own reaction be the true reward.

5. Give Yourself a Genuine Shot

The reality is that no one starts a project with the intention of not completing it.  It's just not something someone does.  Even Schubert probably wanted to finish that symphony.  But you have to realize that things worth having take time, and patience.  If you want to find the perfect guy, some of the fellas you're going to run into on OKCupid are going to be creeps or duds or really great but they aren't going to call you.  Life is not a romantic comedy, and despite that annoying friend we all have who met their one true love on a first date, most of us have to parcel through a lot of scum to get to the center of the Tootsie Roll pop.

So be patient, and actually continue to work on a project even when progress slows a bit or you don't see results right away.  Continue to plan, and continue to seek out advice if you need it, but make sure not to give up just because things aren't easy.  Because (one more time, for the cheap seats in the back)-if it was easy, everyone would have it.

And that's where we'll leave it today-we've got two more days left of the self-improvement week, and I hope you've been enjoying it.  Let me know in the comments if you have any additional planning tips, or if there's something else you'd like to see me tackle!

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