Planning for the Life You Want

Planning for the Life You Want

Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.
– Winston Churchill

I haven’t always been as intentional about the life I want to live as I am now. And I haven’t always been as successful at getting what I want.

Now I know that simple old-fashioned formal planning about my life makes getting what I want much more of a sure thing.

Earlier in my life I probably could not have easily identified what I wanted. For instance when I had been married 17 years the first time, and I had three teen-age children, I was depressed, confused, and adrift with no vision or strategies for my life.

I remember toward the end of the marriage trying to gain perspective, aghast that we seemed like characters in a madhouse drama. We were all suffering, but no one had a clue about how we could create a happy future for our family.

We had no formal plan for our lives.

I learn about formal planning

In a new job a couple of years later, my boss told me that all of his employees were required to develop what he called “goals and objectives.” I knew about management by objectives, but I had never been required by an employer to write down my work goals and objectives and then negotiate them with my boss each quarter.

The final written product of our individual planning—g’s and o’s—as we all called them was only a page or two, but we all knew exactly what was expected of us.

I liked the thoughtfulness of the process, and I liked the personal attention. My boss sat down with me each quarter and talked to me about my job in detail, something I had not experienced before. Our office was a highly focused and productive workplace.

As the boss myself, I add personal development to planning

I was the boss in my next job as CEO of a low performing organization of 35 employees. I took the formal planning process with individual employees into my new workplace.

My employees found it difficult and frightening. They were not skilled in planning of this sort, and they were intimidated by the accountability of the process. Many of them left the organization in the next few months.

I added what I called Personal Development to the usual categories of work, so that each quarter employees got to set personal development goals for the quarter with the help of their supervisor. Personal development goals might be around further education, health, relationships with colleagues, skill development for promotions, or even intimate issues around marriage and family.

With all of our employees growing and developing intentionally, we evolved into an innovative dynamo. We became a recognized leader in our field and ultimately trained thousands of leaders all over the country in our organizational processes.

The key to our success was not mystical: the key to our success was unlocking the potential of each individual employee through a highly formal planning process that involves these steps:

1. Identify the outcomes you want in your life

I pulled from my files quarterly plans from 18 years ago to see what priorities my plan focused on back then.. I saw that the Personal Development section of my quarterly plans focused on building a closer relationship with my children, who by then were adults, living in other states with their own children. Here’s part of my quarterly plan 18 years ago:

Quarter: October, November, December, 1995

Plan Area Outcome Strategies Measures By
Personal Development My children know that I love them and experience my interest, commitment, and support. 1.I call often, visit periodically, and invite them to my home several times per year 

2. I give gifts and loans to meet financial needs.

Each child called three times An invitation to Thanksgiving

 Loan to Randy

 

Supplemental funds to Amy for job change

 

 

Monthly 

October 25

 

November 1

 

When requested

This kind of planning helped me stay focused on a top priority for my life: learning how to love and demonstrating that love to my children.

I kept this outcome in my quarterly planning for years because convincing my children that I loved them turned out to be more difficult than I had supposed. I needed to provide deep proof that I could be counted on to overcome their caution and reserve in our relationship.

My formal planning paid off, keeping my top priority for growth in front of me. Finally, I didn’t have to work so hard at being loving. It just comes naturally now.

In the last two years, a new outcome has emerged as I listen to what wants to emerge in my life. Here’s part of my current quarterly plan

Quarter 4  October, November, December, 2013

Plan area Outcome Strategies Measures By
Personal development I sustain my poise, remaining present, connected, grateful, creative, and light hearted no matter what is happening. Map the universe of poise in detail. 

Share my insights through my books, my blog, and other blogs and publications.

The Poised Life is published. 

 

10 posts onthepoisedlife.com

 3 posts on other self-development blogs

 One article submitted to NYTimes op ed.

May, 2014 

 

 

December 31

 December 31

 November 30

I have been drawn to understanding my own self-pity and victimhood. My greatest desire is to remain balanced and composed—in a constant state of equanimity.

I plan formally to get what I want most—a sustained poise that allows me to live a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage.

2. Identify strategies to move you toward the outcomes you want

Once we know the outcomes we want to achieve in our lives right now, we need strategies to move us toward the outcomes.

Strategies are our approach to getting what we want. In my current plan above, I want to achieve mastery of poise, the state of consciousness that allows me to have access to my love and my full powers.

The two strategies in my plan above have focused my life on expanding my consciousness in very deliberate ways.

First, I am examining the issues of poise at the deepest levels I can. Second, I capture my learning in my writing and share it with others. These strategies now absorb my entire work life, and allow me to practice sustaining my poise in my personal life every day.

Sometimes we need to change our strategies, but these two are working for me now.

3. Build accountability for growth with specific measures of progress

Conscious planning must include accountability. To build accountability into our plans, we need to identify specific indicators that will measure if our strategies are working.

I’m careful in setting these measurements. I like to succeed, and when I see at the end of each quarter that I did everything I committed to, I know that I have given my best and can step back in peace.

Asking and receiving

I see that, yes, it is true: ask and you shall receive—if we are in a certain state of consciousness.

But knowing what to ask for requires some planning. Then, armed with a careful plan, we make sure that we will receive.

Photo by bibekthecrony

Gary Stokes

Gary Stokes maps the universe of poise on his blog,  www.thepoisedlife.com where you can get a free assessment of your poise.  He is the author of the book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide.  He lives with his wife, Mary, in Prescott, AZ.

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19 Comments

  1. Excellent insights!

    Thanks for being a kindred spirit.

    I wish you Peace and continued growth in your journey.

    Reply
  2. Thanks Gary, for writing this and sharing your personal G&O’s with us.
    It is really good to see how far you can progress in the personal development sphere just by staying focused the way you did. What started off as sharing your love with your kids turned into writing a book about a subject you find fascinating – I think it’s great!
    I’ve “turned Pro” this year, and have a similar system going for me, one where I check in daily with the different aspects of my life I want to change. So far so good on my end, – all the best to you for the future too!

    Reply
  3. Know what’s great about this, Gary? It’s not just goals for goals sake. Each points to a specific aspect of your life that is tied into your core values. And you old yourself accountable. That is a recipe for achievement…and confidence to go after future goals. Thanks for a terrific article!

    Reply
  4. This is lovely! The planning aspect is sort of self-evident to me at this point in life, but what I found most interesting about this is the interplay of this type of planning in relationships and at work. Until I read this, I’d considered one’s life plan to mostly be a solitary endeavor – for no reason, thinking about it.

    Reply
  5. It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I heard about personal development. Ironically, at that time in my life, I thought I was “done:” I was married with a young son, had a job I loved and, owned a home. What more was there?

    Pretty sad state of affairs, right?

    Some of the hardest and most rewarding “work” I’ve done is the work I’ve done on myself. It’s made all the difference in my life.

    And,you’re so right that strategies and accountability are key components to this lifelong pursuit of excellence.

    Thank you for the reminders.

    Reply
  6. Tim, Thanks for your comment on my post on planning one’s life. I am happy to be your kindred spirit.

    Larry, You bring up a valuable point about core values. You are so right that these kinds of plans must and do align with core values. My own values around family, love and consciousness play out in the outcomes I most want to achieve. Thanks for the reminder.

    M, you make me realize that my desired outcomes and strategies to achieve them don’t differentiate much between work and non-work aspects of my life. I do see my life as a whole.

    Kathy, I’m not at all surprised that you began to be more intentional about your own development at 40. In some religious traditions, instructions doesn’t even begin until the age of 40–40 being the age when we begin to be real adults, they believe. The sobering truth is that many people never become intentional about their learning and development.
    I like the warrior view: the warrior is at war with his/her own weaknesses. This war requires humility, alertness, a deep love of life. Gary

    Reply
  7. This is a great post Gary, thanks for sharing your journey. Having goals and a plan to achieve them is critical to success; but more than that, it develops trust in our relationships, and trust in ourselves. When we stay the course and our actions reflect our words, we demonstrate to others that we can be counted on… clearly shown in your ability to reconnect with your adult children, despite their initial resistance and suspicions. Very inspiring!

    Reply
    • Lorna, I hadn’t thought how having goals and plans develops trust in our relationships. What a good point. You make me realize that we’re talking about consciousness here. The more conscious we are–the more awake and loving we are–the better our relationships will be. You’ve inspired me to write more about this subject. Gary

      Reply
    • Lorna, What a good point you make about the relationship between intentionality and trusting relationships. It’s all about consciousness, isn’t it? If we are conscious–awake and loving–we operate at a high level of intentionality and trustworthiness.
      Thanks for pointing out this important truth. Gary

      Reply
  8. Gary,
    Having a plan means that we have to be clear about what we are going to do and not going to do. People fear planning for two reasons: one they want the opt out, the ability to change their minds; two it means they have to ‘fess up to what they’re about. Planning is great for when you’re clear and as you’ve highlighted a fantastic way of making those goals happen. At the times we’re less clear sometimes the opposite is best – fire, ready aim. By purposeful experimental action we can find what makes sense and and then have the seeds of a goal to plan towards.

    Reply
    • Peter, I love your idea about “purposeful experimental action” and how trying things can produce more clarity of purpose. Then, the clearer we are about what we want, the more likely that we’ll bring our desires into manifestation. Great point. Gary

      Reply
  9. A great article. Planning not only for myself, my career, but also for those associated with me in the common enterprise is praise worthy. Personal development is the key to bring about a well knit unit working for a common purpose with the satisfaction of growing individually as well as together.

    Reply
    • Mahavir, My experience in bringing a high level of intentionality to a group of people taught me that strong leadership is necessary. Powerful intentionality in a family, work group, or any other human gathering doesn’t easily occur spontaneously or, if it does, it doesn’t last long.

      Whoever steps up to lead has to model intentionality but also has to create a standard of intentionality in the group. Leaders have to go pretty far with all this, using their persuasion, charm, encouragement, and even their authority, if they have some authority.

      Thanks for your great comment. Gary

      Reply
  10. Hi Gary:

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights regarding planning out our goals in life. This is particularly relevant around this time with New Year’s Resolutions and goals. Over the years, I’ve put out my yearly goals, but like so many never really followed through–not really understanding how to organize the steps to accomplish each of my goals. I’ve put more thought into my goals for this year and I’m considering getting a life/goal coach to help me organize and create a realistic plan that will lead me in the right direction. I’m so excited about this year and all of the bright promises it has to bring. And setting out plans for my goals will help make things happen for me. Thank you again for this article, as I found it inspiring and relevant.

    Reply
    • Madison, I love your perspective on your life right now and “the bright promises” of this year.

      Some additional tips for planning: in a state of deep reflection, ask, “What do I want?”

      My experience with coaching others is that we should have only four or five things on our list of wants. These four or five outcomes represent what wants to emerge in our life right now. We can’t succeed with more than five outcomes, and maybe not even that many.

      Secondly, we must have learning partners as we pursue our own emergence. If you don’t have a spouse or friend to partner with on emergence issues, getting professional help is necessary.

      This could be an exciting time in your life! Gary

      Reply
      • Hi Gary:

        Thanks for your feedback regarding having only four or five things on our yearly goals list. This is definitely something for me to think about. I have less than 10 but more than five and I’ve been wondering how I was going to adequately spend enough time tackling all of my goals for this year. I think I do need to cut the list down and focus on no more than five. This makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

        Reply
  11. Hi Gary,
    I like this. I learnt the process you write about as a contract manager. We use the outcome based contract where we focus on the desired outcome rarther than tasks. If you have shown that this method also works for your personal life. Great stuff.

    Reply
  12. Hi Gary,
    I like this piece. I learnt the process you write about when I was a contract manager for facilities maintenance. We use the outcome based contract where we focus on the desired outcomes or expected results rather than on tasks, materials or cost. You have shown that this method works for your personal life. Great stuff and congrats!

    Reply
    • Stu, Thanks for sharing your professional experience with this kind of formal planning. As an organizational consultant, I rarely saw organizations that planned formally with individual employees in a high quality process. That’s why, as Peter Drucker observed in organizations, nobody knows what anybody else is doing.
      Even where organizations plan well with individual employees around work production, personal development is usually not discussed much. Gary

      Reply

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