This month’s newsletter is a guide to developing a longer term plan for your life. Each year, many of us make resolutions that don’t seem to stick. This is because they are short sighted and are not grounded in a longer term plan and direction for your life. My goal in this guide is to get you thinking and planning based on what you want out of your life in the future and setting goals and strategies now to get there.

In my thirteen years of working with organizations in strategic planning I used a process based on five key questions. These same 5 questions can be asked of ourselves as we create a long term plan for our lives. The five questions are:

* Who are we?

* Where are we now?

* Where do we want to go? What do we want to accomplish?

* How do we get there?

* How do we measure our progress?

In this guide I will provide you with information and tools to address each of these questions for yourself. The guide is by no means exhaustive, as there are many ways to answer each question, but serves to provide some of the fundamental ways each question can be explored.

Question 1: Who are you?

One of the key ways to define who you are is to discover your life purpose. Discovering your life purpose means focusing on the essence of who you are. If you focus on being who you are first, then it frees you up to do what you want to do, which lets you have what you need. The Life Purpose becomes an anchor for all we do and strive for.
• Life purpose is the reason we are on this planet. It is the thing we are meant to accomplish, the gift we are meant to bring.
• Your life purpose is your objective or intention and something toward which you are striving. It is the person you want to be or the kind of life you want to lead.
• Having a succinct statement of your overall purpose in life can be an immense aid in determining what you want. An effective purpose statement tells you when goals or behaviors are off track.
• It is the round-the-clock, twenty-four-hour, every-day-of-your-life expression of who you are when you are reaching your full potential.
• When you are “on purpose,” you are fulfilled. This means you are contributing and making a difference.
• With your purpose firmly in mind, you can make moment-to moment choices with real integrity.

Life Purpose Exercise
Right now, spend five minutes drafting a one sentence statement of the purpose of your life. If you like, prompt yourself with these questions.
• What am I striving for?
• What is the aim or goal of my life?
• What is the main result I want in my life?
• What am I determined or resolved to achieve with my life?

Following are some sample purpose statements:
• My purpose is to live, learn, love, and laugh.
• My purpose is to have a wonderful life and to dramatically contribute to the quality of life on earth.
• I intend to become financially independent and raise happy, healthy children.
• I will live in harmony with all creation.
• My purpose is to be a healing presence in the world.
• My purpose is to promote the well-being of my family.
• In my life, I seek to release suffering and serve others.
• My life purpose is to become an accomplished, famous pianist.
• I aim to promote evolutionary change and be a catalyst for growth

Question 2: Where am I now?
The second part of the planning process is to identify where you are right now and this means telling the truth about yourself. This allows you to shed your old skin to be ready to recreate yourself and your future through setting goals and being accountable for them.

Ways to Tell the Truth About Yourself
Telling your truth is scary. Many people are willing to go miles out of their way to avoid the truth. That way you avoid the pain that comes with telling the truth. Although denial can work in the short term to make things look all right, in the long term, denial keeps you from the possibility of change—it keeps you stuck in our problems, saps your energy and can leave you exhausted. Denial is a struggle and a struggle implies resistance. And the more you resist something, the more it usually fights back. It takes courage to dig deep and allow yourself to open up to the truth. And while telling the truth might hurt, it opens the door to methods you can use to make effective, enduring changes to improve the quality of your life.

1) Stop shaming and blaming: Most people see self-evaluation as a negative process, but there is an alternative. You can learn to see shame or blame as excess baggage and just set them aside. You can acknowledge and even regret your mistakes and shortcomings while accepting yourself completely. You can begin working with your list of weaknesses by celebrating them. You can love and accept yourself and still work really hard to change.

2) Forgive yourself: One powerful way to move from shame to acceptance is to forgive yourself. Before practicing new skills and new ways of being, it’s wise to clean house. You don’t need to beat yourself up before you re-invent yourself. You can be totally honest with yourself and, at the same time, be gentle. While admitting your mistakes, you can treat yourself with care. After all, everyone makes mistakes.

3) Let go of the past, but learn from it: You can focus on what you have learned from your past, without getting caught up in repeating your mistakes. You can discover a way to move forward without feeling rotten about the past. You can change the way things are without having to be upset about the way things have been. The past is over. There is nothing you can do to change the past. It is also important for you to let go of who you were or what you did in the past if that is not what you strive to be in the future. This means you have to believe you can change—you can engage in new ways of being and doing. The past is useful in showing you things you do not want to repeat and in exploring lessons you have learned that can be helpful in creating change in the future.

4) Face your fears: We all have them and they are responsible for holding us back. To identify your fears you need to pay attention and become an observer of yourself. You should be paying attention to what you fixate on and what you ignore, how you make judgments about situations and how you interpret other’s behavior, and the internal dialogue that is going on when the fear strikes. You need to get to know your mindset- especially patterns like learned pessimism or helplessness and other limiting or negative self statements. Mindset is based on your core beliefs. When you say you are afraid, underneath is a belief you have about yourself- I am not skilled enough, good enough. etc., or a belief about the world--there is too much competition, people won’t like what I have to offer, etc. When you can let go of fear you can release yourself in powerful ways.

5) Assess and see the connection between strengths and weaknesses: It is easy for us to talk about our weaknesses, but building on your strengths can be just as valuable as admitting your weaknesses. When you ignore your strong points, you cheat yourself. Celebrating your strengths can boost your morale and give you the energy needed to tackle long-standing problems. Most people place strengths and weaknesses in separate, unrelated categories. Another way to perceive them is as being closely related. Often the things about yourself that you label as weaknesses are simply examples of taking your strengths too far. A person with a passion for organization can become obsessed with details and lose sight of overall goals. A person who listens well may forget to speak about his own thoughts and feelings. These are just a few examples. The point is to remember that your assets and liabilities may all be part of the same personal account.

6) Explore your readiness to change and threats to change:
Knowing your level of readiness for change is key in moving forward with any plan you write. There are many theories of readiness for change and even surveys to assess readiness. In general you can be disinterested, deliberating, designing, doing and then defending the change. When you are disinterested you don’t believe you can change or that it is worth it and all plans will fail. When you are deliberating you are gathering information, answering questions, and acknowledging that change is needed. When you are designing you are planning an few small changes, thinking benefits outweigh costs, planning on how to build in new behaviors and working to change your attitude or mindset. When you are doing you are making a clear commitment, changing your behavior and seeing the benefits. When you are defending you are sticking with those changes over the long term, continually working to make more changes, overcoming obstacles in your way and defending your choices to others. Other important aspects to increase readiness for change are to create a support system around you, have realistic beliefs about what you can accomplish, and to know your limits.

You must also identify key threats that block you from achieving your goals and getting down the path you want. Two of these are energy drainers, which suck the vitality out of your days and unmet, or sometimes unacknowledged, needs

Energy drainers: There are two kinds of energy drainers-Gnats and Sufferings
? The little annoyances or gnats of your life are the small things you brush off or ignore, but are the things that accumulate to extract your energy. These are things like messy closets that keep you from finding things, an unorganized work space, a crowded attic, a car that needs an oil change, or an unfinished project. The accumulation of these little things can become massive energy drainers.

? The big or chronic complaints are the sufferings of your life. These create tension and crowd you and you are really conscious of how they diminish the quality of your life. Sufferings can be things like your staff is not well trained so you can not delegate, that you do not have time to take vacations or have quality time with your spouse, you have stopped exercising, or your children need more attention and structure than you can give.

Until you address these energy drainers and tie up loose ends, you will not have the energy to make changes and stick with a plan.

Unmet needs: Needs are different from wants and desires and they can be situational. Everyone has needs, but when your needs are being met you don’t really think about them. It’s the unmet needs that impede your progress. How do you know you have an unmet need? When you have a need that is not met you can feel frustrated, hurt, angry, disappointed, fearful, and sometimes, empty. It’s that deep feeling that something isn’t right. Pay attention to when you experience these emotions and you are on the trail of an unmet need.

Needs generally fall under 4 categories: Needs for Security: Examples are safety, protection, financial, stability, order, duty, clarity, honesty. Needs for Power and Influence: Examples are authority, wealth, perfection, control,
acknowledgement, praise, influence, morality, visibility. Needs for Achievement or

Attainment: Examples are to—create, achieve results, perform, be responsible, be spiritual, be busy, attain calmness, strive for. Needs for Intimacy, Relationship, Connection: to be- listened to, loved, touched, helped, appreciated, connected, included, central to a group.

Begin to explore and identify your unmet needs so that you can design goals around getting those needs met and in general, be more successful in accomplishing your goals.

Question 3: Where do I want to go, what do I want to accomplish?
At this point you are ready to set some goals. And you are probably asking yourself, do I really have to do all the work to answer the first two questions before I even set goals. The answer is YES, because if you do not, not only will you not be motivated to achieve your goals, you will not set goals that are truly achievable and to which you will fully commit.

Step 1: Set some long term goals to design the future
In your mind’s eye, see yourself in the future. For the moment, pretend that time, money, and resources are not an issue in making that future a reality. You can consider these factors later. For now, let your imagination work without limitation. Allow yourself to create the future from nothing. Describe the conditions you’d like to exist in your business, family, health and community in about 10 years—things that you would like to accomplish. Write these long term goals as if they exist right now. Describe in detail what you’re doing, seeing, and feeling as you stand in that future place. Make the goals as specific as they can be. Examples could be: “I will be working in a career that brings me fulfillment”, “I will have the money to send my children to college”, or “I will spend time travelling internationally”. You don’t want to have a ton of long term goals, usually 5 to 7 that address the different domains of your life such as career, love, family, health, money, environment, etc.

Step 2: Describe the present
Now, describe the present as it relates to your preferred future-basically, a statement of where you are at now in relation to each long term goal. Be honest. If your long term goal is to be able to travel at least 4 times a year, then tell the truth about how much you are doing that right now.

Step 3: Link the future to the present by setting some 3 to 5 year (mid-point) and one year (short term) goals.

In this step, you’ll work backward from your long term goals to write your history. First you will write some 3 to 5 year goals (mid-point goals) for each of your long term goals that will move you toward the future long term goals. When most people plan, they start at the present and project forward in time. In planning strategically, you start at the future and work backward in time, toward the present. For example, if your long term goal is to travel at least four times a year, your 3 to 5 year goal may be to be able to travel two times per year. If your long term goal is working in a career that is fulfilling, then your 3 to 5 year goal may be to start a business that you are passionate about.

After you set your 3 to 5 year goals, then you set one year goals that will lead you toward those mid-point goals. You should have a few one year goals for each 3 to 5 year goal. So, if your 3 to 5 year goal is to start a business you are passionate about, then some of your one year goals could be “to identify my passions”, “to identify the steps needed to become an entrepreneur” or “to research potential markets and define target customers”.

You should re-examine your mid-point and short term goals. Every 6 months to a year assess where you are at in the plan and make changes as needed. Plans should be flexible because life can be unpredictable.

Writing good goals is important, whether they be long term, mid-point or short term goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, doable and timely. Below are some tips for writing good goals and making a plan.

State your goals in a positive way: Positively-stated goals are often clearer and more inviting than those stated negatively. While negative goals make clear what you are giving up, positively-stated goals point out the benefits you’ll gain. So instead of writing, “I will stop smoking,” you can write, “I will lead a smoke-free life,” “I will have clean lungs that are free from nicotine,” or “I will be tobacco-free.” Instead of “I will not overeat,” you can write, “I will eat an optimum amount of food for my body,” or “I will eat enough food to supply adequate energy and keep myself at an ideal body weight.” Some psychologists believe that your subconscious mind cannot process negative words such as not and never. If that’s true, then “I will not overeat.” is translated as “I will overeat.”—with markedly different consequences for your life.

Add a time-line: Give yourself due dates for achieving your goals. Adding a time-line to your goals is one way to raise your level of commitment. Many people report that when they add time lines, their goals suddenly become more attainable. There are several options for stating time lines:

“I will achieve this goal by (date).”
“I will do this until (date).”
“I will do this from (date) to (date).”

If the time line looks unworkable once you write it down, then just change it. Even when an initial time line proves to be off base, it gets us started toward choosing a more accurate one.
Add priorities: Not all the goals you create will be equally important. Accomplishing some of them will create more value for you than accomplishing others. To get the most out of your efforts, assign priorities. There are several options here, too. For example, each of the following statements signals a level of priority, going from lowest to highest.
• “I might accomplish this goal.” In this case, you like the idea and want to include the goal in your life plan. You consider it a possibility. Yet, while you think the goal is a good idea, you’re not committed to getting it accomplished.
• “I want to accomplish this goal.” These words reveal that the goal is something you desire, even something you are passionate about. The goal is something that’s attractive and appealing to you, but not something you’re willing to guarantee as of yet.
• “I plan to accomplish this goal.” The word plan reveals a higher level of commitment than might or want. While a plan is not a guarantee, it is a goal that’s likely to be accomplished.
• “I promise to accomplish this goal.” Promises represent the highest level of commitment. Your words have the weight and solidity of a marriage vow. In effect, you’re saying, “You can absolutely count on me to get this done. I’m willing to stake my reputation in it. I give you my word.” Listening for these phrases can be revealing.

Step 4: Write out your plan: There’s a saying: “A goal clearly defined is a goal halfway achieved.” Writing is a tool for gaining precision. Writing also helps us remember our plans and communicate them to others. “A plan that’s unwritten is no plan at all,” says Peter Drucker, the well-known management consultant. Although you can take plans to a high level of development by simply creating images of a desired result or by mulling ideas in your mind, your plans become even more powerful when you write them down. Writing allows you to see your thinking. Writing acts to slow the process of thinking down so that you can supply missing links and state ideas more precisely. It’s tough to know what you are really thinking until you see it on paper.

For some people, the process of writing seems to set a plan in stone. If this is true for you, just consider your plan a first edition or a rough draft. A written plan is a revealing image of a human being who lives, moves, and changes constantly. Any plan is subject to endless improvement. Professional writers often produce three to 10 drafts of an article. Your life plan could go through many more as you change and grow.

Question 4: How do I get there?
Now that you have a written plan with clearly stated goals, your work is to achieve those goals and work the plan. The next steps will help you to keep on track to achieve your goals.

Step 1: Commit to the goal
The strength of your commitment often determines the level of success you will have in reaching your goals. To strengthen your commitments, write down a list of benefits that result from reaching each goal. Consider physical, social, spiritual, and economic benefits. You can list the amount of extra time you’ll have, the extra money you’ll make, the extra boost of energy you’ll experience, or the added meaning and satisfaction that reaching the goal can add to your life. Frequent reminders of these benefits can go a long way in keeping your commitment levels high.

Step 2: Plan some strategies
To create effective strategies for reaching your goals, begin by generating a list of things that you need to do to reach them. The strategies you choose should meet some criteria:
? They should have a high likelihood they will lead to the goals chosen.
? They should be based on the work you did in defining who you are and where you are now
? They should be ones that have worked for others or that “experts” say will work to achieve the goal
? They should be able to be implemented as planned-you can actually get this done.

You can break each strategy down into action steps and then you can add a due date for taking each action. Basically, you go down the path to your goals by taking “baby steps”—actions that are simple, small, and concrete. You want to experience success quickly so that you stay motivated, so choose behaviors that you can implement immediately. And remember that finding teachers, coaches, classes, books, and trainings can also be useful in planning a strategy to change habits.

Step 3: Create flexible plans
Life is complex and there is no sure-fire recipe for achieving any goal. Knowing this can actually give you a sense of freedom and mastery. Remind yourself that there are multiple paths to any destination. This is especially true when our goals are complex, involving many people. Life is full of surprises! Knowing this, you can save yourself the frustration of taking a linear approach to achieving any goal. Perhaps you’re fond of recipes and step-by step instructions and you want to approach your life plan in the same way. No problem. Just experiment with the strategy of creating at least five different paths to any one of your goals-a plan A, B, C, D and F. The path you eventually choose might be a combination of all five.

Step 4: Build in rewards
Some people experience early “wins” from planning. They start to experience a greater sense of choice and control, the surge of energy that comes with achieving a desired result, and much more. These benefits are often called intrinsic rewards--they flow directly from doing the task of planning. But, you can also make use of extrinsic rewards—those that give you pleasure even though they are not a natural consequence of planning. Examples are getting a massage after you have worked about 4 times one week or going to a movie after achieving staying on your weekly budget.

Step 5: Change your habits
Most of the time achieving the goals in your plan is as simple as learning to substitute water for a soda or organizing your papers everyday. Taking charge of your life is about taking charge of your habits— making simple, small changes in your behavior and your beliefs.

There are many possible approaches to changing a habit. The three-step strategy that follows has the advantage of being simple—and powerful.

Commit to change
Publically declare your intention to adopt a new behavior. Tell all the key people in your life about the change you plan to make. Put that change in writing by making a formal contract with yourself. By making a committed promise, the next two steps will help ensure that the promise is kept.

Set up a feedback system
Find a way to tell yourself how well you’re keeping your commitment. For example, you could create a chart with spaces for each day of the week, then note how many times during the week you practiced the new habit or make a note in your calendar. If you want to stop interrupting others you could ask people to tell you if you have interrupted them. Another way to give yourself feedback is to create pictures—charts, diagrams, and other
visual aids—that display the occurrence of a behavior over time. One common format is to
draw a graph that represents time on the X-axis and events or actions on the Y-axis.
Say that you want to acquire a new habit of saving five percent of your take-home pay each month. Using a graph, you could visually display your progress in acquiring this habit.

You can also use a journal as a mirror of yourself to discover how well you’re doing in changing a habit. Simple lists in your journal can work wonders. If you want to drop the habit of complaining, just list the number of complaints you utter each day. If you want to become more skilled at making promises, then log each promise in your daily journal and then once each day or week, review the list to see how well you’re keeping these promises. Along with this, you can give yourself a daily “grade” on your overall progress in changing the habit. You could also record your progress on a wall calendar. If it helps, buy a big calendar with photographs or illustrations you enjoy and hang it in a prominent place.

Practice, practice, practice
Give yourself time and take it easy on yourself. Habits can take years to develop, and they might not change overnight. It could take lots of practice. And remember that you can make mistakes without giving up on your commitment to change. Don’t kick yourself when you are down. Kicking ourselves when we fail to keep our commitments consumes a lot of time and energy: “As usual, I forgot to exercise today.” “I lost my temper again, after I promised I wouldn’t.” That’s energy you can channel into adopting a new habit instead. When your behavior falls short of your intentions, just note the fact without shame or blame. Then you can get back to practicing the new behavior. If you start to shame and blame you can start a vicious cycle of beating yourself up for the failure. It could look like- “Not only did drink two sodas today—I got really angry about it and I am so disappointed in myself.” Comments like these just add another layer of reproach to the problem and impede your efforts to change.

Step 6: Implement your plan
Now that you know what you want and how to achieve it, you can carry out your plans with success! For ideal results, your plans should hinge on actions YOU control. If reaching your goals depends on the actions of other people, you might set yourself up for failure. When you are in control of implementing your strategies, are committed to your goals, are armed with alternate courses of action and are rewarding yourself for progress and taking baby steps, you can stay on track for creating change.

Question 5: How do I measure my progress?
Not only is it important to set up a system to provide daily and weekly feedback on implementing your strategies and actions. It is important to have ways to measure your overall progress toward your goal and to know when those goals have been achieved. Measuring progress means asking yourself, what will I be able to see or feel or what will be different when this goal is achieved. It is important to know if you are achieving the short and mid-point goals that lead to your long term goals. If you are not reaching your short term goals then you may need to rethink or implement a new strategy.

Finding ways to measure your achievement of a goal can be powerful. For each goal you have written, write some of the ways you will know you have met that goal—these are called indicators. Begin selecting indicators for your goals by identifying the specific, observable accomplishments(s) or change(s) that will tell you whether each goal has been achieved. Ask yourself how you can tell if a goal has been achieved. The following questions will help you begin to define your indicators.
* What does the goal look like when it occurs?
* How do you know it has happened?
* What do you see?
In selecting indicators, you should also ask:
* What do I need to know?
* With what precision do I need to know it?
* What can I comfortably leave as "unknown"?

For example, if your goal is to identify your passions for a possible career change then your indicators may be:
? I completed an exercise to identify my passions
? I fully described each passion
? I prioritized my passions
? I identified a passion that is linked to a specific career field

Below are some tips for writing good indicators:
* Indicators must be observable and measurable. For example, your goal is “increase my self-esteem” and your indicator is “I feel good about myself”. This indicator is difficult to measure and just a restatement of the goal. A better indicator may be “I engage in positive self talk at least three times a day’. And you can document this on a calendar or journal.
* Indicators must be unambiguous. Terms such as “substantial,” “acceptable,” and “adequate” that are subject to interpretation are not specific. An example is: “I am exercising an adequate amount of time per week”. Numerical targets (“I am exercising at least 45 minutes, three times per week”) make better indicators because they are unambiguous.
* Indicators should state a timeframe. Since your goals have timeframes, your indicators should as well. It may be true that not every indicator occurs at the same time and that is OK.
* Indicators should be valid. In other words, the indicator should provide the most direct and accurate measure of the goal.
* Indicators should be clear. This means that anybody can read your goals and indicators and easily understand them- like, this makes sense.
* Indicators should be useful. Ultimately, indicators should give you useful feedback about whether you have met your goal. It is useful if some apply to more than one goal and if you care enough about the indicator that you will work to achieve it.

Be careful about measuring the actual goal and not just performance, and using more than one indicator per goal. For example, the student whose goal is to complete an empowering education might decide to measure this goal by only the grades he gets. He could end up working exclusively to gain straight A’s, neglecting to ask whether he’s gaining any valuable skills or concepts from his learning. When you are narrowly focused on measuring your performance, not goals, you can end up misinterpreting feedback.

When you are not meeting the indicators you have set, and thus, not reaching your goals, you might find that adjustments in your plan are needed. Sometimes you carry out a plan faithfully, give it adequate time to work, and still find that you’re missing the mark. That’s when it’s time to try something different. On the other hand, if you are getting the results you want, you have at least two choices. You can change nothing and keep the plan intact, or you can look for ways to make the plan even more effective.

In this guide, I have given you the information to ask and answer five key questions to strategically plan your life. This process takes self-exploration, commitment and time, but can yield incredible results as you work to change your life. There are many other exercises and tools to help you through this process. The support and guidance of a life coach, and the accountability in working with a coach, can lead to faster planning and a greater likelihood of success. I am offering some coaching packages that work through the five key questions in this guide in either 5 or 10 sessions. For more information go to or e-mail me at

Author's Bio: 

In my professional life I have reinvented myself over the past 18 years. I received a doctorate in Clinical/Community Psychology and focused on child and family therapy and prevention programming for youth. For the past thirteen years, I have worked with non profit and community based organizations in implementing outcome measurement and developing and implementing strategic and operational plans. I have also worked with organizations to improve services through conducting needs and assets assessments and developing standards. My transition into Life Coaching represents a blend of my training and work as a therapist with my focus helping organizations set and achieve goals. I am currently working on life coaching certification through the ICF.

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Dr. Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, the Official Guide to Personal Accountability