How to get what you want in life

You could trust to serendipity. You could subscribe to New Thought philosophy, which maintains that by focusing on positive thoughts you can bring positive experiences into your life. Or you could plan.

I would strongly recommend planning.

Some people find planning boring. They think it will constrain their life and remove spontaneity. No. Planning brings freedom, and enables great things to happen. If you find it boring, you’re not doing it right.

Planning is a bit like dreaming, but with milestones.

Imagine right now what you most want to do with your life. Think of all the fantastic things life has to offer, and decide which of those you’d like to fit into your life. Sounds fun? Write down your thoughts. Your planning is underway.

Life would be simple if we wanted only one thing. Our plan for each day would look like this:

  1. Wake up.
  2. Do the thing.
  3. Go to sleep again.

But most people aren’t like that. They want more than one thing. That doesn’t make them greedy, just interesting.

They might want a career as well as a family. They might want to travel. There might be some burning interest that they need to follow. So the plan looks more complicated.

But the principle is simple – decide what you want most, and ensure that you spend your time doing things that are important to you. Otherwise, you’ll find your time is wasted on things that weren’t on anyone’s plan. How many people would choose Reading the newspaper, or Keeping up with Facebook as their life goals? But if you don’t plan, that’s what tends to happen.

Some people enjoy planning and will make detailed plans for each day, each month and each year of their life. Others prefer a looser approach that makes discovery possible. Of course, you could perhaps plan discovery by including Meeting new people as a goal.

But if you’re not consciously directing your time into the activities that you choose, then your time will be lost to distractions and the demands of other people.

Life is the most precious thing we will ever have. Planning makes the most of each life. What a shame to miss out on it.

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24 responses to “How to get what you want in life

  1. I must confess I am hopeless at planning Steve. I never once used a spreadsheet in business and can’t even remember the last time I wrote a to-do list of any kind. I tend to do things on the fly, guided by instinct more than anything I think. I doubtless could benefit from having a more structured approach, yet seem pretty contented as I am nonetheless.

    • Perhaps your goal in life was simply “Be contented.”

      • I think that is everyone’s sub-conscious goal Steve. People assume that they want to be happy by virtue of their conscious planning and choices, but actually what they want is something less transient and totally free of desire itself; they want to be contented.

        • It’s possible that most people wish to be free of desire. Or else, they wish to have all their desires satisfied immediately without any effort on their part. I suspect it’s one or the other 🙂

  2. I’ve always been a good planner. Teaching successfully requires it. As my life has progressed, I do less planning and more spontaneous things. Still, it feels best when there is a good balance between the two. Neither should dominate in my life.

  3. Funny, I was just reading “Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa,” in which Ed Buryn suggests collecting lots of data before an open-ended trip but advocates against overplanning. I guess some scenarios are best served by the Morris method (plan meticulously), some by the Buryn method (gather data but don’t overplan), and some scenarios might be best left to serendipity (e.g., that time in the 70s that I started hitchhiking east to see the hippie commune called “The Farm” in Tennessee [still flourishing today, mind you] and ended up 1500 miles west in Flagstaff, Arizona, having the time of my life). For career and financial goals, though, you win (but young people especially should be prepared to move laterally across careers and re-plan as opportunities arise – so Morris with an assist from Buryn).

    • Planning would not be my recommendation if your goal was to become a vagabond. In that case, you should plan to do little research in advance of a perilous trip. That would maximise your opportunity for unexpected adventure.

      Your anecdote reminds me of when I travelled around Europe by train on a near-zero budget. Events were either serendipitous (like when we sailed up the River Danube from Budapest for approximately one dollar for six people) or adventurous (like the night that a German Shepherd Dog nearly ate me as I slept on a floor in Munich.)

  4. It’s the classic parable of The Ant and The Grasshopper. Personally, I’ve always been the grasshopper, and ever since I retired, your three-point plan is exactly how I’m living my life! 😄

    • What is the thing for you, Wyrd?

      • Whatever strikes my fancy!

        Messing around with software, reading books, watching movies, taking walks or drives (or naps), drinking interesting craft beers, checking out baseball, beer, science, and other blogs and articles (et many alia)!

        • Sounds great. But I’m willing to bet that you planned for your retirement so that you are now able to enjoy it to the full!

        • Only in the sense that The Company offered a 401K and urged all employees to sign up. So I did. (Currently I’m living off the pension I get in virtue of working for a living there for 34 years and haven’t touched that 401K.)

          Steve, I don’t want to give the impression of being totally against planning! I think there are many things you can’t do without it (and without doing it well). But most of those things, for me, involve building or creating stuff.

          My life has been deeply informed from a young age by two poems I encountered in high school. Frost’s The Road Not Taken and Burns’ To A Mouse. In the latter, particularly the line, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”

          Someday I’ll have a tee-shirt made that says, “Gang aft agley.”

          The fact is that two of the most seminal moments in my life — discovering I was an artist, and discovering I was a computer programmer (which became my career) — both came through serendipity. It is also true that the plans I made (e.g. becoming a filmmaker) didn’t work out at all.

          Many of the wonderful things that brought me joy in life came through chance. Many of the plans I made led to grief and disappointment. As such I’ve always tended to take it as it comes (depending on my wits to get me through — and they have).

          As Frost put it, “that has made all the difference.” 🙂

  5. My plans for life don’t really include a specific level of wealth or much associated with material endeavours. It still takes planning though to attain my interpersonal goals. I couldn’t reach any level of success without putting in the work, and the work would be wasted if it were not well thought out.
    I have several in action but the most important is to live by my strict set of morals. This is geared to make me the guy I would look up to most in life. Basically be honest in words and actions even if it means the worst kind of repercussions and never allow someone to be bullied even if risking personal harm. This is a very hard road but it has been very interesting. The planning and work needed require constant humility which frees me from others judgement. A deep level of contentment which allows me to risk my life for others sake. And the removal of insecure emotions so I do not become a bully myself when faced with people who are better than me, or have more than me.
    The approach I used has worked far beyond my own expectations. But you have to realize that I fail miserably on a daily basis. I still use all the idea’s you’ve expressed regarding working toward your goals.

  6. Hard to argue with planning. I’m in the looser category myself. I think that’s an important option for people intimidated by detailed planning.

  7. Hey Steve, I dont get your posts in my feed. Why is that???

  8. One big problem with planning is that it can fuel procrastination. You can endlessly avoid something by ‘improving’ on the plans you have for it!

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