You Don’t Need a Plan to Change Your Life

No Plans
Photo credit: Nicola Romagna

People ask me all the time what my plan is for this blog and my writing. They want to know what my goals are, my objective. But I have no idea what to tell them.

I imagine they envision some master document hidden in a safe somewhere. Usually, I mutter something about building a platform and getting some books published, but the truth is:

I have no idea what I’m doing.

If I did, I would probably be selling sweatshirts and coffee mugs with my face on them already. I just show up every day and share what’s on my heart, and for some crazy reason, a lot of you tune in.

Occasionally, I get an idea and test it out, sometimes with more success than others. Call me simple, but that’s enough for me. Enough to keep writing, to keep showing up.

Of course, I have hopes for this blog and where I’d like to see it go, but I don’t have a plan. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. And I like it that way.

Plans are overrated

I have wasted ridiculous amounts of time writing down goals and mapping out my life. I have taken surveys and filled out my fair share of workbooks. I have heard “plan the work” and “work the plan” so many times that I am ready to throw up.

But none of this worked. Not one thing brought me a step closer to the life I wanted to live. Maybe I’m just undisciplined, but I know a lot of people who are this way and feeling disillusioned about goal-setting. They make plans, and the plans don’t happen.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

This is true for other aspects of life, too. In the business world, plans don’t hold much water. As Jason Fried says: “Plans are guesses.” Seems about right. Every plan I ever wrote was a slightly-educated guess based on what I thought would happen, and I was often wrong.

Life is a story, not an event

Your life is not a marketing strategy. It’s not some appointment in your datebook. So in what universe does it make sense to make a plan for it?

Of course, I understand the importance of values and priorities. But planning out every step? I don’t buy it. There’s something beautiful about the unpredictable, about a good, healthy surprise.

Is this not why we ride roller coasters and go bungee jumping? Because we love the thrill of the unknown? Everyone wants to be part of a story bigger than themselves. They want to be caught up in an adventure and leave a legacy.

I’m not saying live recklessly. Please, make your life count. Pursue your dreams. Start something. Live with purpose.

I just wouldn’t waste my time with plans, if I were you.

The secret is starting small

My friend the addiction counselor tells me he discourages addicts in recovery from setting too many goals.

“How do people get better, then?” I wondered.

He says they create new habits by focusing on short-term outcomes they can control. The point is the process, not the finish line. Changing your life, it turns out, isn’t about setting large, unattainable goals. It’s about small changes over time.

That’s how I became a writer: by getting up every day and doing what I needed to do. In fact, this is how nearly everything important I’ve ever done has happened: not as a result of a plan, but over time with habits.

Maybe a plan works for you. If so, good. Keep doing that. But if not — if you’ve found yourself frustrated like me and so many others — then consider a different approach. Give up on goals and plans, and instead focus on new habits.

What do you think of plans? Have you seen them benefit your art, work, and life? Share in the comments.