We often get asked a question ‘How do you plan ahead when you don’t know what you want?’ there is a dangerous illusion that only by knowing exactly what you want you can get it. With more often than not people who end up being successful in what they do (or how they live their lives) know what kind of life they want, but not exactly what they want.
The second illusion is that even if you knew what you wanted it is unlikely that you would get exactly that. Getting what you want might actually lead to a disappointment as we don’t necessarily know what is good for us until we let life experience teach us. Accepting that you can’t always get what you want and that it may be good for you sets you off to a good start.
We are not suggesting that floating without a goal is a good idea. It is important to consciously plan ahead and set goals. Regular reviews of the way we want to live helps us make most of the one life we have – and live it to the full.
Here is a list of 5 steps you can take immediately to plan your life, even if you don’t know what you want.
1) List four focus areas in your life.
I have created this simple matrix to remind myself to set goals in all areas for a balanced life. It is sometimes very easy to get carried away with a new project or newly born babies and neglect other areas of your life completely.
In my matrix I have Relationship (with my husband), Family (that is kids and living the family life), Money (not ‘Work’ as I’d like to think I can do things I enjoy, and they generate an income) and finally Health and Friends (which generally has everything else in it from riding to going to see art and cooking for friends).
It is important to keep husband separate from your ‘children and home’ box – if those are relevant to your life stage right now – to make sure you also take care of your relationship and not just your kids. Women tend to lump the whole family into one box and the relationship easily gets neglected.
You can fill these boxes with any four important areas you have in your life. The matrix acts as a reminder to set goals in all areas. There may be time in your life when the matrix becomes heavier in one box, but setting goals through this weekly will help you to remind yourself not to completely neglect anything that is important to you.
What if I want a relationship and I don’t have one? Can I still have a relationship box?
– Of course, and you should! Remind yourself about the kind of relationship you would like to have, not the kind of man you would like to find. We don’t know who we can love until we love someone. But we can define the feelings we want to feel on a daily basis.
2) What kind of feelings and experiences do you want in your life?
List what kind of feelings you would like to feel or experiences you would like to have in each of the four areas. What activities give you a boost of self-esteem or make you feel energised? What kind of people do you want to be or work with?
When you don’t know what you want it is not fruitful to set goals based on achievement, but based on what kind of days you want to live. My favourite exercise is ‘The Perfect Day’ where you write down what happens in a course of one day from waking up to going to bed. You can cram as much in as you like and describe what ever is important to you. I write this up every 5 years and so far it has worked wonders!
3) Are you doing things that point you to the direction that excite you more?
I recently interviewed Jodi Ettenberg who writes a fantastic travel and food blog called Legal Nomads. Her site is really worth checking out! It is probably one of the most genuine and personality-filled blogs I’ve came across so far. She has gone from being a successful NYC based commercial lawyer to traveling the world for 5 years.
I asked her how she has ended up where she is now and how she initially coped with the uncertainty of leaving her big job. She told me she grasped what made her passionate – travel and food – and just run with it. She doesn’t think one should necessarily chase one ultimate goal, but to keep an open mind with each step and be aware of new opportunities that constantly arise around you. Her advice was to weight each option against how they are going to make you feel and if they excite you.
It is a good idea to make a list of things that excite you and not just expect those moments to happen. This will equip you to become better in spotting the opportunities that might lead to a more fulfilling direction in your life.
4) List what is ‘Hot’ and what is ‘Cold’
We used to play a game called ‘It’s Getting Hotter’ when we were kids. One would hide an object in a room and the others would have to find it based on tips such as ‘Hot’, ‘Hotter’ or ‘Cold’. If you were in the ‘Cold’ area of the room you had to move to another part without knowing if it would be a success or not. Staying in the ‘Cold’ would not bring results as your friends would move around and most certainly get the ‘It’s Getting Hotter’ call soon enough. Sometimes one ended up searching the whole room before succeeding.
You can list areas in your life that are ‘Cold’ and the ones that are ‘Hotter’ or ‘Hot’ to help you set goals to find your way. Move away from ‘Cold’ and towards things that are ‘Getting Hotter’ but ultimately try to find the bulls eye in ‘Hot’. As long as you are getting closer, you are on the right track.
5) List actions you can take today to start moving towards the ideas you have listed above.
Think of small steps that you could take immediately to start making the ideas, thoughts and concepts you have listed above a reality. Don’t start from drastic moves such as moving to a different continent! Little steps can often give you more information and then you can further refine your goals.
Make sure you write down at least one immediately actionable step for each of the four boxes in your matrix (1).
And remember that you will have to step outside of your comfort zone in order to start discovering what it is you want. It is called ‘a fool’ who does the same thing over and over again expecting a different result!