The principle of setting goals can apply at all levels, not just the next meeting you are attending or a project you are leading. It can equally apply to setting life goals, creating a life plan. Whenever I mention those words to people, I get a variety of reactions. Some people recoil – setting life goals is a scary thought – its far more pleasant to drift through life, accepting what comes along. Some are concerned that if they have a plan, it could result in them missing opportunities, whilst for others, it just makes sense.

I always stress that a life plan should not be too rigid. If it is, prepare to be disappointed and to miss opportunities. Just like the next meeting, if we have a broad plan of what we want to achieve over a much longer period of time, perhaps the chances of living a purposeful life and achieving our dreams, goals and ambitions, may greatly increase.

Take a few moments to consider the following questions:

How much of your potential (scored 1-10) do you believe you have realised in your life to date?

Which one great achievement is still inside you?

They may be deep and difficult questions, but they might also get you thinking about your future.

Now, let me take you forward to a future birthday of yours. One of those decade birthdays that ends in a zero. Not the next one, the one after that. So, if you are in your thirties, it’s your fiftieth birthday and so on. What do you want to have in your life, to be doing and to have done, what kind of person do you want to be?

Have: at first this may seem a bit materialistic. It may well include tangible things you want to have in your life on that future day, such as property, possessions and wealth, but it may well also include thoughts on your health. Very few of us would choose to be in poor health on that birthday. There are no guarantees that we will reach that day in robust health, but I wonder, could we do a little more from today, to give us at least a little more chance of that? I also suspect that in thinking about what we want to have in our lives when we reach that future birthday, many of us will use words like “happiness, fulfilment, contentment, love”. Very few of us would be likely to choose the contra words. What do we need to focus on doing from today, what decisions do we need to take, to make those hopes a reality?

Do: look around you at that future birthday. What are you doing in your life? In broad terms (remember, do not be too prescriptive) where are you in terms of job and career? Are you doing voluntary work, what hobbies and interests are you pursuing? What are you doing with family and friends? Now look back – what have you done over the past few years? What have been the highlights of your professional life – what difference have you made? Did you realise the “great achievement” you considered above? Where have you travelled to, what special times have you enjoyed with family and friends? What memories do you cherish most? What new skills have you mastered?

Be: we finish by going deeper – what kind of person do you really want to be? Now for a bit of visualisation. Find somewhere quiet and imagine on this future birthday, a special party has been arranged to celebrate your landmark “big zero” day. Look around you, see your family, friends, work colleagues, people important to you from all aspects of your life. The people you would want to spend that special day with. One after another, these people are going to stand up and talk about you. They want to tell others gathered there, why you are important to them – what difference you have made to their lives, why you are such a special person. Listen carefully, you can here the words they say. When they finish speaking, you might even choose to write down some of the things they said. Now here’s the challenge. Would they say those things about you today, or do you need to focus even more on becoming the person you really want to be?

If you did all of the above and built up a picture of the future, would the journey from today to that future birthday be smooth? Of course not. Things will happen, happy and sad, which will knock you off course. New opportunities will present themselves, you will encounter new people on the journey. When we are knocked off course, having a plan will allow us to refocus and it will be broad enough to allow us to absorb changes.

Life planning is not for everyone but it might just be the secret to living an even more purposeful life.

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