Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

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.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • I love making plans, but at the same time, planning sucks the motivation for action right out of me. For example, if I have a to-do list for a particular day, I am much more likely to follow through if I don’t write any of it down, but I also risk forgetting things that way too. I talked with my husband about this, and he said, “You just don’t like being told what to do, even by yourself.” Story of my life. Some part of me wants to be better at following through with my plans, but another part of me says to forget planning and go where my gut tells me. I should just embrace the tension, I suppose.

  • Mahi Tuna

    making plans can be valuable and a hinderance. Most people look at life plans when their current life is making them unhappy, lets face it, if you were having the time of your life would you sit around wondering how to change it. So all that one needs to do is be honest with themselves and determine what isn’t working and solve that. It can be a number of things and may take awhile to work them all out. 5 and 10 year plans? who knows but i would say that today if your plan was to buy that sharp car a nice, 2014 model it would never happen. You wouldn’t buy that 5 year old car that is outdated and so much more is now offered in 2019 automobiles..things change, always. Stick with plans no longer than 1 year. Good or bad but look at how different your life is today than 5 years ago. Most came about by some unplanned activity. Some may have not been interested in the party they were invited to and decide to go anyway, they meet their spouse and today married w/kids or you break your back falling off a ladder and caused your life to take a different direction. So much of the things that make up ones life is largely unplanned especially 5 years from now. It’s true no matter what anyone says. In 1939 some fellow was walking to his dorm living the college lifestyle and 5 years later finds himself hunkered down in a foxhole in a steaming hot jungle fighting for his life. Plan that, good luck

  • Greg Parry

    Planning is first part to do anything in your life.When you are going to do something new in your life then making plans for it is very beneficial. Plans let’s us know what we should do and how.Plans always gives you the successful results of your work.


  • ahmed

    proactive + NO goals > a life with no clear direction !
    however , it’s okay if you know that and you’re happy with no-direction-life .
    In my opinion, I appreciate people live by their rules not what the whole comunity dictates.

  • Hi Jeff,
    Glad you wrote this 🙂 Joining the party a bit late here considering that some of the comments are 4 years old.

    I suck at planning but I really want to have some kind of a plan now. Ever since I started writing for various large publications (HuffPo, Business.com, Virgin, SEMrush, Aurora) and speaking (local university events, Google events, online webinars, even a recent stint of international speaking), I get bombarded with lots of opportunities.

    Until recently, my response to most of the opportunities and the people needing my help was to say “Yes, I am available”. But now I want to have a plan (which won’t be an absolute plan, but more like a map or a guide of sorts) which helps me be choosy and a bit more disciplined in my approach to doing things that I love.

    Being a creative person who has a variety of moods and all, I do know that I may not be able to stick to that plan fully and that I will need to be flexible but I am to take a step back, shut down all gadgets, read a lot, and figure out the top 3-4 things that I am especially passionate about. I think doing that, along with having a better schedule of sorts will benefit me even if I don’t get to follow every single step of my ‘flexible plan’.

    Does this make sense? https://disqus.com/home/forums/goinswriter/

  • Kristen

    I’m laughing because I bought 2 new planners for this year & took a course, Best Year Ever. My brain puts the millions of thoughts & tasks into categories and lists. I do a few each day. Pack lunches – check. Walk dog – check. Get up at 5 to write – check. Play guitar – sometimes. The thing is that I’d probably do all that anyway. The goals I end up achieving are those that I’ve sidled up to by way of a habit. A small thing I do (almost) every day, sprinkled with the power & purpose of simply showing up.

    I’ve been writing 500 words AKA morning pages (or evening) & the habit has stuck! Thanks for being a guy who shows up & encorages others to do the same.

    Oh. And the link to Have the Best Year of Your Life leads me to a lovely haiku but no article.

  • ug3a6

    i guess one cannot be more honest and transparent, I really like what i read here ,Thanks and regards