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I am a huge believer in having a life plan, and I love helping others live up to theirs. But I think the idea is off-putting to a lot of people, because they think creating their own life plan is going to involve someone else telling them what to do. Far from it.
Coming up with a life plan is simply examining your own hopes and dreams, reminding yourself what is most important to you, and ensuring your actions reflect that. I recommend jotting down a quick life plan to anyone who comes to me for financial advice. Or advice about anything- diet, exercise, family planning, incarceration. “You need a life plan” are my five favorite words after “You want In N Out?” and “Or would you rather McDonald’s?”
Last winter I strained my back at work. No big deal. Except I could hardly work, or walk, or lie down, or sit in a chair, or stand up, or get out of bed. And Greg had to wash my feet in the shower and put my compression socks on because I couldn’t bend over and let me tell you, putting compression socks on another adult is quite the ordeal.
I got super sad and super cranky and oh wait, it was a big deal. I never missed any shifts, but I planned on picking up two overtime shifts the week I did it, so that cost me a bunch of money, and I had to go to Urgent Care for them to tell me I could try some Aleve. Thankfully I only had to tape a massive heat pack around my scrubs for about two weeks, but it took at least a month to get back to normal, and urgent care doc told me having strained it once I’m much more susceptible to doing it again.
Having never hurt my back before, I didn’t know if it would get better. In my mind I was going to be like that forever, which is not great to think about when you’re already staring down the barrel of insanity, but it did allow me much more sympathy for people with chronic, especially back pain. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep nursing. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sit on a plane again, or take a road trip, or put a backpack on. The darkness was setting in. Right around that time I started reading David Bach’s Smart Couples Finish Rich, and while much of it reiterated what I already knew and utilized, one part changed my life forever.
David Bach is a financial expert who, when first sitting down with a new client, makes them fill out his ‘Value Circle’ to establish the top five most important values in his or her life. Then he recommends making a 48 hour plan, then a plan for the rest of the year, to take actions that contribute to their values, especially when it comes to money.
It took about two seconds after listing my top five- marriage, mental and physical health, financial freedom, adventures, and helping others/saving the planet – to realize an injured back was actively going to take away from all that was most important to me.
My physical health went from ‘when I felt like it’, or ‘when it’s convenient’, to miles ahead of anything else on the value scale. Because when I feel good, I am good, and I’m calm and sane and I treat my husband well and I can work toward our next adventure, and dedicate time and money to helping others.
I’m not trying to ‘do my best’, because what the hell does that even mean? I want to be proud of who I am, and someone I’d want to be around. I want to lie down at night knowing I’ve actively contributed to the things that are most important to me, and I would never expect those feelings to come to me simply because I’m ‘doing my best’. Nah, man, I need a plan.
I write down a new life plan about once a week, and sometimes it’s all-encompassing, and sometimes it’s about one specific thing, like hiking Sweden’s Kungsleden Trail for example. Sometimes it’s on scrap paper, and sometimes it’s on the back of a receipt, or in my journal. Where, what, how, doesn’t matter, as long as I lay out my hopes and dreams for me to see, touch, and feel.
I like using pretty markers and seeing my own handwriting and sharing with others because it helps hold me accountable. I make seven day goals, because as a nurse I don’t always have time in the next 48 hours, and because a new habit can be established in seven days, and habits are powerful things. I find it easier to establish annual goals first, then break it down into what I can do in the next week to contribute to those. I love big ass goals because if I achieve just a tenth of one, I’m doing ten times better than if I’d done nothing. And you don’t have to just stick to five values, but I will in my example:
|Values||2018 Plan||7 day Plan|
|Physical, mental health||Sleep 8 hrs/night. Run a half marathon. Journal every day. Average 10k steps/day.||Bed at 2230, up at 0700. Run 3 days. Write in journal at 2200. Hike Mt. Wrightson.|
|Financial freedom||Max out our 401ks. Max out our IRAs. Max out G’s HSA. Live under projected annual expense budget. Put all extra money into taxable investments.||Go out to eat only once/week. Eat all food in fridge before buying more. Print all 1099s and W2s. Donate plasma twice weekly. Track steps on Sweatcoin to earn points for PayPal cash.|
|I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell.||Five new National Parks. Five new High Points.||(check that Hawai’i box, yo.) Check best times to camp on Channel Islands. Make ferry and camping reservations. Look into Mt. Whitney lottery.|
|Help others||One new motivational blog post/week. Ethiopia for valve replacement surgeries.||Write another post today. Text Dr. C about 2018 plans. Call about becoming ACLS/BLS instructor.|
|Save the planet||Stop buying resealable plastic baggies. Say no to the straw. Pick up trash.||Self-explanatory. On days I don’t run, get 10k steps picking up litter.|
That took like 30 seconds. But I am a lister. Your short- and long-term goals should be tangible and attainable, not something ambiguous like “Be healthier” or “Spend more time with my husband”. Instead try “I won’t eat carbs after 4:00p this week” or “Date night this Friday at In N Out”. Clear goals are much easier to achieve.
I would (and do) encourage everyone to make their own life plan, and to encourage your spouse, kids, parents, etc. to come up with their own. I made Greg (and anyone who made small talk, or even eye contact with me in 2017) do it and it also took him about 30 seconds (after he threw out “Cubs win the World Series”) and we pretty well matched except he said he’d like to have a home where I said I wanted to help others (what a self-centered jerk)(jk). Okay! Let’s work on our life plans together!
Five minutes after his life plan, Greg changed ‘have a home’ to ‘quit our jobs to be campground hosts’. And that’s totally fine, because it’s his life plan and he can change it whenever he wants. I was serious when I said this exercise changed my life. Every choice I make now goes back to my life plan and I have to ask myself whether my choice ties into my goals, and whether it is going to help or hurt my dreams. I have to think about spending money, and what I eat, and how I sleep, and how I move patients. It sounds exhausting, but it’s actually really exciting and a lot of fun. Because it’s me telling me how to contribute to what’s important, and to avoid what’s not. And it makes it a lot easier to say no to things that don’t fit into my plan. Like buying Poptarts, or eating nachos before bed.
So go ahead, try it! Make a list of your values, and come up with a plan for the next week, and the rest of this year. Get an idea of the person you’d like to be, and the actions you can take to help get you there. Obviously this doesn’t have to be permanent- you can make a new life plan every day if you want. But can I suggest using scrap paper in that case?
My life plan is to be fit and strong, and still hiking in my 70s. It’s to love, respect, and appreciate my sweet Gregorovich. It’s to encourage and help others live better lives. It’s to laugh at myself, be content, and sane. It’s to leave this world better than I found it.