This article is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 talks about viewing your life as though it is a story. Part 2 explains a system of setting goals and planning for the future, starting with your beliefs about reality. Part 3 brings the story-perspective and the planning system together.
Part 1: The
Story of Your Life/The Universe
One way to view your life is as though it is a story.
In the past I have written how telling yourself stories usually leads to suffering. But the thing is, those stories are usually ones that you create unconsciously—semi-consciously at best.
Essentially what happens is that you focus on a certain string of events, apply certain labels to yourself based on those events, and then form certain expectations based on those labels. You tell yourself a story about how you’re a useless moocher because you haven’t found a useful, creative way to generate income yet. You take a peek at your bank account, or recall a critical comment your Mom made, and you conjure up a whole story about how you’ll never be good enough and you’re the scum of the Earth.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
Of course, if you sat down with a pen with the goal of writing a compelling story, that probably isn’t what you’d write about. Indeed, maybe your character would hit a point in the story where he struggles financially and/or is unsure of what his purpose is and how he can best contribute.
What do you think would write next? Would you write 1000 pages of how he lived this same day over and over? Would that be an interesting story? Or would you rather write a compelling tale about how he went on an adventure by which he steadily came to realize his purpose, and he then took on challenging yet admirable work through which to fulfill that purpose? He won’t hit success with every step, but he’ll get there eventually. 1000 pages later, your character is a whole new man.
Which story is more interesting to you? Surely at the very least you’d prefer to read the latter. You’d probably have more fun writing the second story as well, even if it’ll require more creativity and thought.
So which story would you rather live? The one that drones through a repeat of the same dreadful day until the character’s eventual demise? Or the one where the character undergoes substantial development via a dynamic plot, and becomes self-actualized?
You can live either one. As the simultaneous author of and character in your story, it’s pretty much up to you. The first story is highly predictable, and takes far less effort to write. The second story is attainable, but it will have to be written consciously.
There may be some worry that if you view your life as though it is a story, you will either become highly narcissistic or dissociative. You’ll either form grand ideas and images of yourself or you’ll lose all sense of identity. Isn’t that, like, a problem?
Author and Character
It doesn’t have to be this way. Through the lens of Subjective Reality, the story perspective is perfectly tenable. As I said, you are both the writer and the main character in your story. This means that you simultaneously identify with your character and with the story itself.
Now, you aren’t the sole, God-level writer of the story. I wrote about this in my Book. When you use the subjective lens long enough, it becomes clear that even though you have the potential to make reality a funhouse of everything imaginable, you simply will not do that. Why? Because you don’t really want to. It’s just too hard to get yourself to believe you can create anything at this very instant. You’d rather have the relative stability and predictability of the physical world that you have for so long been used to.
This means that there are constraints on the physical, or dream, world. There are certain limits to what can happen. Now, those limits may not be quite as strict as you currently imagine them to be, but that’s where the element of character development comes in: as the story progresses, your character ideally will transcend the limits he once believed in, and then form new limits thus. This is what people generally like to see in the main character of a good story.
It is within these constraints that an elaborate story may unfold. There will be a degree of predictability to it, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of plot twists, nor does it mean the story will not be interesting and exciting. This just means that the story will focus more so on development (of characters and plot) rather than disjointed, manic spectacles. Spectacles will still occur within the story, but they are not the end-all. Spectacles are limited to the short term. Story is about the long haul.
The Interplay of Stories
In my book, I wrote how you should avoid blending the subjective and objective perspectives at all costs. The primary warning there was that you should not assume that other people think, because you do not have access to their thoughts. When you do this you’re more likely to be hesitant and get caught up in things that don’t matter.
This doesn’t mean that other people are unconscious. From the subjective standpoint, all people are as equally valid a part of reality as you are. You are not the one, sole conscious being. It just so happens wherever consciousness goes, so too does this body of yours. This body is not the only conscious thing. In fact, it is not a conscious thing at all. It simply is contained within consciousness, just as all the rest of your surroundings are. We say things like “You are conscious” or “Your consciousness” largely just to play along with the story.
Consciousness is essentially the force that writes the story. Characters, objects, setting—that’s the stuff of the story, the dream-stuff, if you will. As the writer of the story, you are consciousness, and everything in the story is contained within consciousness. The progression of the story, then, is a reflection of the development of consciousness. Each one of us is a character that plays into that development somehow. We may speed it up, slow it down, or even cause a temporary reversal. Whatever we do, we cannot deny that we play some role, and have some effect.
You could say, then, that we each live in two stories. One is our individual story. It is the story of each person’s own life. Every one of those stories occurs within the larger story of humanity—the story of the world, or of consciousness. As a human, a resident of the world, and a conscious being, you cannot deny that you have a place in this larger story. Try all you’d like, but at the end of the day, you influence the larger story, and the larger story influences you.
It is the larger story that gives substance to your individual story. Without other humans, without consciousness, without the world, what would your story be, anyhow? You’d be walking around against a white background, like in the matrix. There would be no story to tell. It would be the opposite of infinity.
Your story takes place within this larger story. It thus is useful for you to form a clear understanding of the larger story. Essentially, what I do, in my view, is inform people as to how the larger story works and to encourage them to become heroes, both of this story and of their own individual stories. I see the larger story as being about development. Yes, the story doesn’t just develop—it is centered around development in itself. Because both the author and everything within the story is consciousness, it is the story of conscious development.
Be a Hero
As I suggested earlier, the most compelling stories are those in which the main character(s) undergoes substantial growth (character development), under the guise of an exciting plot which poses numerous high-level challenges to him. This means that to create the best story for yourself that you can is to align with the larger story, since both are focused on development.
You’re the hero of your own story no matter what. You may be a washed-up hero whose best days are behind him (hey, I didn’t write that story—you did!), but you still are the hero. As the simultaneous author of your story, you are the one with the power to save your story. Thus, you shall remain the hero of your story until the book that contains your story closes.
Whether you are considered a hero within the larger story, however, is, well, another story. To be a hero in humanity’s story, you have to choose to be one. You have to commit to being one, and you have to act on that commitment every day.
In this story-context, my book, What is a Real Life?, is essentially a manual on how to be the best hero you can be, both of your own story and of the larger story (now that is some damn good marketing). I see my role in the larger story as uplifting other heroes to be their best. This includes people who are already heroes, as well as those who are transitioning to become heroes. In truth, all heroes inspire others to be the best heroes they can. Some just don’t do it quite as directly as I intend to. Instead, people are inspired by, you guessed it—their stories. These stories are all over the place, aren’t they?
Because all of our stories are intertwined, to me the larger story of conscious development equates to one of an unfolding, eternal love. The idea that all of our individual stories is part of one larger stories means that we all are one—ultimately, we are the same entity. When I recognize this, I feel the best I can do is to serve the well-being of others. Their well-being and development is the same as mine. So as I seek to develop my character, I seek to help others develop theirs. In this way, we develop the larger story—that of consciousness. We release aspects of the story which are enjoyable for us to author, to observe, and to experience directly as characters therein.
You can pick out a label for what your role is within the story. Perhaps you are a teacher, a healer, a guardian, a caregiver, or a leader. This label may change over time.
While doing some planning based on the story lens earlier, I decided that I am a warrior within this story—or, at least, I’m in the process of becoming one. I wrote,
My duty is to fight for what is right, noble, and true. The entity I fight for is eternal love. To this end I seek to educate, uplift, and encourage other heroes to the cause; and to be, through my quests, on the front lines of the battle for love. Where my fellow humans have fear, I will jump into the fray. What I deem best for the whole I shall do, no matter how big the challenge. On the largest monsters, I shall begin the fight where I stand. I seek to lead the charge—and to go into the fight on my own, if that is what I must do. Along the way I hear the stories of other heroes, which provide me with insight and inspiration to continue on, and which foster comradery between us and with all people.
If I am a hero in the larger story, then who is/are the villain(s)? The ultimate villain is fear. People who spread fear can also be called villains; they are the henchman of this larger villain. It is that which I fight.
I’m uncertain whether the warrior label is accurate since I generally seek to cultivate love and positivity (such as by writing articles like this) rather than reduce suffering and fear directly (e.g. providing food to the hungry). Maybe “artist” would be a better title, since I focus on creating things rather than destroying. The title of warrior is more inspiring to me, though, so I’ll stick with that for now. :P
At the end of the day, many heroes end up doing similar things, regardless of their label and regardless of whether their focus is on creating the good or eliminating bad. However, I think these roles and focus-points can help us to stay on course with what we do best and how we best do things. The labels aren’t meant to be unnecessarily limiting, but rather to help you carve out an inspiring path for yourself which you enjoy walking down.
Hero One Day, Villain the Next
In my story-based plan earlier, I wrote how incongruence makes for an interesting story. This means that in one aspect of your life you may be very successful and talented, while another aspect may be dreadful and dragging. I wrote,
…It is in all aspects of a hero’s story that he must prove himself to be a hero. Otherwise, our stories would be disjointed. Now, it may be this element of story- the call for a holistic and congruent story- which makes the stories of humans and humanity itself so compelling. Our stories do not shut off. The reader is always reading. The writer is always writing. This is what makes our tales expansive and grand. This is what makes our tales so compelling. We may be heroes on one side of our stories, yet peasants or even villains on another. This is what Kim faces now: her intentions are that of a hero’s, and her (ultra)runs are on their way to becoming worthy of a hero’s quest, if they are not already. Yet, when it comes to sustaining herself, Kim straddles the line between being a young hero in training to an old mooch of a woman, unable to fend for herself and feeding off the labor of others. It is here, where we find incongruence in our story, that the story really begins to be told.
I also elaborated on the note I made at the beginning of this article, on how change makes for a moving story:
For any one thing to go on indefinitely and unchanged creates for an uninteresting storyline. Yet there is some level of predictability to our stories. Additionally, this can very well be the case for a hero who does little to write his story, though some degree of change tends to occur in one way or another soon enough. That is simply the way of our storybook world.
Contrarily, when you are writing your own story to the extent that you can, and you are trying to be the best hero you can be, you will likely make those changes and add new challenges by your own will. If you truly are committed to the path of heroism, it is only in your nature to do so. Adventure runs through your blood.
The background on my own story, as it presently is playing out, serves as an example of this:
Kim’s supplies of gold have been low, based on what she is used to, since around the time work on the manual began. Her parents still provide her with food and shelter, though Kim has been able to buy only small amounts of food by her own means. She still does drive a chariot (why am I being so goddamn cheesy? I think I can address dream-world stuff by its real names. Hahaha!), though she is not able to fuel it often. Kim has been nagged for months by her mother to seek entry-level employment. But Kim is not interested in that: that would only divert her from her quest. Kim seeks to earn gold by helping people to become better heroes and storytellers. She began earning gold thus only after the publication of her manual, and even then, the total has been low thus far. Can our heroine sustain herself by noble means? Or will her story take a dive for some time while she extracts gold from some master?
…Now, surely you would not find that so interesting to read about. Perhaps you would read the first page or so to find out what form of employment Kim took on, what the pay rate was, when she worked, and how she felt about it. That’s really all you would want to know. Beyond that, you probably wouldn’t care to read accounts of her days on the job—would you? No, you’d probably skip a lot of pages. Imagine if you were forced to read’s Kim story word for word. Why, you would be ready to explode by the end of that account. So, Kim’s story will not be written thus.
What we should like to find, I think, an account by which Kim does indeed march forth on her noble quest, and, whether or not she extracts gold, is able to help other heroes in the noblest of ways possible. This noblest of ways will be quite the challenge for Kim to come up against. But that is what we ask for in a story, do we not? And what would we like to see for our heroine? Why, we would like to see her pushed to her limits. We would like to see her forced to learn something new, and to grow into a new woman. In Kim’s story, we have been watching her transition out of childhood and into adulthood. We would like to see Kim make the journey from scared child to a fearless adult, would we not? We want to see big changes in her. And we would like to know how she goes about these changes. We would like to see her go about it by noble means.
And surely, we would like to see Kim challenge herself continually until her story’s end. We do not always need to see Kim succeed on her first attempt at a quest, yet we need not see her fail perpetually, either—neither story would be compelling. We would like to see Kim come to a place where she must pull out more resources than ever before. This means that each challenge- each time she must do this- is more difficult than the last.
Thus, I am committed to creating the best story for myself—one I trust would be worth reading.
And yes, by the way, you don’t have to refer to money as “gold,” or cars as “chariots.” As for yourself, referring to yourself in the 3rd-person can help to reinforce the idea that you are both a character and an author of the story, so I would recommend going along with that one. Just make sure you don’t accidentally start speaking that way in conversation, too.
Of course, referring to money as gold makes this process more fun, so even though it’s not required it’s recommended. :)
Part 2: Comprehensive Planning
I started working with this story-perspective shortly after completing long-term plans based on a more objective perspective.
Here is the outline I used for those plans:
Observations, Thoughts, Feelings, and Experiences < - - - > Beliefs < - - - > Larger Context > Purpose > End goals > Mission Statement > Big Goals > Vision > General Tasks > Specific Goals > Projects > Values > Plans > Action > Observations, Thoughts, Feelings, and Experiences…
I know, that’s a mouthful. But it’ll make sense in a moment. Allow me to explain.
Here is an overview:
Context asks, What do I believe? What is the reality in which I live? Perhaps a better question would be, In what sort of a reality would I like to live? Or, what beliefs would be most accurate and empowering?
Purpose asks, Based on that context, How ought I be in this reality?
End Goals ask, Who do I want to be? What principles and qualities do I want to embrace?
Mission Statement asks, How will I work toward becoming that person?
Big Goals ask, What big goals will I work toward to fulfill that mission? One could ask of these, What are my life’s tasks? Or, What shall occur in my personal legend? This is the first level of planning where an outside observer can say with relative confidence whether you are on course or off. However, these goals are still difficult to measure objectively.
General Tasks ask, What basic tasks will I work on to fulfill those goals?
Specific Goals ask, What are the concrete destinations along the path of each task?
Projects ask, What will I do to reach those destinations?
Values ask, What ideals should I adhere to in order to best complete those projects? What qualities are most important to those projects?
Plans ask, How will I go about those projects? What precisely needs to be done? What sort of resources do they require?
Actions ask, According to the plan, what do I need to do [now] toward completion of the project? Then, Action says, go.
Now, I will explain further.
The basic idea of this outline is that all plans you make are determined by your context. To determine why you think a certain way about something or why you made a certain decision, you can generally look to your context.
Your context is your collection of beliefs about reality. It starts with your most fundamental belief(s) about how reality works, and from there it goes down to more mundane things, such as what foods you regard as healthy.
I placed a double-sided arrow between Beliefs and Larger Context because your context is made up of your beliefs, and your context reinforces your beliefs. Additionally, the beliefs most fundamental to (at the core of) your context may modify the more mundane beliefs below it, by order of their superiority in determining how reality works.
Prior to Beliefs, and at the end of the outline, are Observations, Thoughts, Feelings, and Experiences. Again, there is a double-sided arrow here because your beliefs color your observations and experiences, and, at the same time, you draw your beliefs from your observations and experiences (along with your thoughts and feelings). Your observations, combined with the thoughts and feelings you have about them, may either reinforce your beliefs or lead you to change them. Most of the time, these things operate in a cycle. Belief and Observation feed into one another.
At the end of the outline, Action leads to Experiences, which always comes along with Observations, Thoughts, and Feelings. The ellipses (…) at the very end indicate that the outline begins again. The idea here is that the whole outline operates in a cycle, like Beliefs and Observations, and thus it feeds into itself continuously.
Your purpose is what compels you to exist; it is why you are here. Your purpose must make sense within your larger context—otherwise, you would not agree with nor care about it.
Your purpose can be pulled logically from your context. You could say that your context is what you believe the purpose of the larger story (i.e. the world) to be, and your individual purpose is what you will work toward to that end. So if you believe, for example, that the universe and life on Earth came about by total randomness, it may or may not follow that you have an individual purpose at all. This will depend on your other, lower-order beliefs, such as your attitudes about other humans (are they to be helped and love? Or, who cares for ‘em?)
It’s important that your purpose not only flows logically from your context, but that it emotionally resonates with you as well. If your purpose feels wrong to you, it’s probably not your purpose. Maybe you’re forcing too much cheesiness on yourself—just tune in and be honest with yourself. And if you just can’t seem to get it right, your context may need some work. Perhaps your beliefs are just not accurate or empowering. If you are to have a purpose that really lights you up every day, you’ll have to set your beliefs straight.
My purpose, at this point, is:
to express the highest love for others, for myself, and for life; to explore joyfully and purposefully; to challenge myself courageously; to contribute to conscious growth; to become my best self; to be a force of light on this Earth; to embrace this present moment as I am; and to be kind to all.
A purpose statement is subject to change, but once you strike on that really hits home the core message of your purpose will likely ring true for you for a long time—at least a few years, potentially the rest of your life. Mine is a bit messy, and could maybe do with some simplifying, but all in all I foresee it sticking around for some time to come.
Next are End Goals. End Goals define what high-order tasks you want to work toward, and what kind of person you want to become-- that is, who you want to be by the time you die. Essentially, your end goals state how you want to live, in terms of higher-order principles and values. Perhaps you want to be a man of honor, compassion, courage, or some other set of traits.
One of my end goals is, Be a person who embraces love. Below this statement I elaborate with, Love for life, love for self, love for others; fearlessness, and service.
You may notice that is quite similar to the beginning of my purpose statement. Some of my other end goals overlap with my purpose statement too. It is a bit redundant, and maybe it isn’t necessary. But it is nice to be able to look at a list of about 10 end goals and recognize, “Ah, yes—this is who I want to be.”
I won’t say any more about Mission Statement here, though you can read mine at the bottom of the About page.
Context, Purpose, End Goals, and Mission Statement together make up the higher-level part of a plan. This means that these all are more or less abstract—they refer to principles and broad concepts rather than concrete objects. This is why you can place them at the top of any plan you make for yourself—because they apply to all things that you do. The abstract supersedes the concrete. This aspect of planning can take some time to work out to a satisfactory place, but the return in clarity will save you ions of time down the road—time you may have otherwise wasted going down soulless roads.
Now, we move on to the more concrete elements of planning.
The first one is Big Goals. Your Big Goals point to something concrete you want to work on, such as playing basketball, but they still may be a bit vague. For instance, one of your Big Goals may be, “Become the best basketball player ever.” It’s hard to measure precisely when that occurs. You can figure that at the least you need to be in the NBA. But at what point do you become better than LeBron James and Michael Jordan? What is it that would make you better? If you’re more or less there, other people are bound to say that you are—even if they don’t all agree. At the end of the day, though, you are left with only your own judgment. It’s up to you to decide when you’ve attained this goal.
The interesting thing about the Big Goals is that there’s not necessarily any stopping them once they are achieved. In fact, they’ll probably serve as stepping stones for other events and tasks of your life. But, again, they will always remain highly significant, and you can always continue to work on them. They aren’t just places you arrive at and then leave: they’re more like places that come to you and then stay there.
Note that these are called Big Goals for a reason. These are the major, overarching aspirations which guide all other actions and smaller goals of your life. If you think getting a PhD is a big goal, you had better think again. Big Goals are about doing and becoming something that is uniquely you. It’s about going above and beyond, doing what others have not done. Going through a pre-established system and earning a title that has been previously bestowed upon others may take a lot of work, but it’s certainly not unique. If you to have a truly big goal, why try to be average by any stretch? Go for it, dude.
If you truly are to live creatively and to serve the highest good, you must do your best. And to do the best job of serving and creating, well, I suppose it pays to be the best. There’s nothing narrowly-selfish about working to be the best. To consciously settle for any less when better can be done is to fail to give all that you can.
So, whatever you’re going to work toward, you might as well strive to be the best. Hence the title Big Goals. Good luck to you, my friend.
What I like about the Big Goals is that I can look at them and say, If what I’m doing right now doesn’t help me to achieve any of these goals, it isn’t worth doing. It simplifies things so much. Either you’re on track or you’re not. At this point I have 4 Big Goals for my life.
Next is Vision. Vision is placed after Big Goals because Big Goals are the first relatively-concrete item in the Outline; thus, they are the first thing that can be visualized. I didn’t start writing out a vision until after I had completed all the other items on the outline, but it’s fine to do at this point if you’d like.
The Vision is what makes all of this stuff a bit more real to you. It gives you something to actively fantasize about. It’s nice in that your mind, when you daydream, now has somewhere constructive to go. The more detailed you are in writing out a vision, the better. Even if it seems silly, be ridiculously detailed. Give yourself something really juicy and empowering to think about. This may fill your mind-space for some time to come.
The idea here, which is why I placed vision after Big Goals, is to visualize your higher, or ideal, self. This is the self you aspire to become—the self who is either in the midst of work on your Big Goals or who has achieved them. When you visualize the life of your higher self, make sure to include all the upgrades in your character as well. This is the self who is worthy of living such an awesome life.
You can also visualize yourself at different points along the way to your big goals. You can visualize yourself, in fact, working on each one of your goals, no matter how small or close by (in time) they may be. At the least, though, I think it’s most useful to visualize the bigger, farther-away picture on a daily basis.
Next is General Tasks. These may or may not be necessary to write out. It’s basically a general to-do list. You don’t cross out the items on this to-do list: rather, these items provide you with direction which keep you at work on your big goals.
My General Tasks list consists of about 13 items. One task is, “Study Personal Development.” It’s not very specific and it’s obviously not a goal, but at least a few of the more specific items in my plans will have to align with this task. The reason is that this task keeps me on track to one of my Big Goals.
Next we have Specific Goals. This is where we finally start to get concrete and clearly defined. These are clear destinations along the path to your Big Goals.
When I came to this point, I made up a list of goals I wanted to achieve, and then I created a new Word Document where I categorized the goals by time. The time categories I used are: Monthly, Quarterly (1-3 months away), 3-6 months away, 6 months to 1 year, 1-2 years, 2-3 years, 3-5 years, 5-10 years, 10+ years, and Indefinite. Under each of those headings I wrote the time period in which those goals are to be achieved. So the goals that are 1-2 years out, for instance, are to be achieved between October 2 2016 and October 1 2017.
The “Indefinite” goals are my Big Goals, since their influence, whether I achieve them or not, will likely span the whole of my life. Under each of my Big Goals I wrote a few smaller, more concrete, but still large and audacious goals that I think I ought to achieve as part of the Big Goals.
So if one of your Big Goals is to be the best basketball player ever, one of the sub-goals might be, “I am named to the National Basketball Hall of Fame.” There isn’t a particular timeframe in which this needs to be completed- it could be any point in your life (or even later, for this one)- but it ought to get done.
As for the time-based goals, the deadline for my farthest-off goals is 15 years away, at the end of 2030. By that point I will be 34 years old. That’s only the case for a handful of goals, however: most of my goals occur within a 10-year timeframe, to be completed by the end of 2025, when I’ll be 29. This makes sense, as most of my visualizations of my higher self take place when I’m about 30 years old. Beyond that point, I’m just too different than I am now—it’s hard to comprehend what I’ll be like or what I’ll do after 30, so I don’t put too much thought into that period of my life. I’m certainly excited to find out, however. :)
It may do to mention that your specific goals are like SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. Normally I might slam the concept of SMART goals- specifically the last 3 parts- but since these are just stepping stones to Big Goals which may seem unattainable, unrealistic, and really not SMART by any of those standards, these SMART goals are just fine. It is in the absence of such Big Goals, however, and especially in the absence of higher-level planning elements like Purpose, that SMART goals may too easily be bland and pitiful. So, it pays to be SMART and “down-to-earth” only if you let your head float into the clouds first.
Most of my specific goals take the form, “I do this by this date” (e.g. “I publish at least 300 articles to my blog by June 1st, 2017.”). Though there is a date linked on I state the goal in present terms, as opposed to “I will do this by this date.” It’s a small distinction, but it helps to reinforce the idea that, even though its achievement will be in the future, I own the goal now, I am responsible for it now, and what I do now plays a part in determining whether I will achieve it. It is, indeed, a part of my life already: I cannot secede its ownership to the future.
What is important about your specific goals- and really, every item on the outline- is that they should inspire you in the present—right here, right now. If they don’t, then what are you pursuing them for? Don’t imagine they’ll inspire you once you start work on them. Or once you’re in the middle of them. Or even long after you’ve achieved them.
If you think you should be a doctor but you don’t really care to be one right now, don’t imagine the goal will feel much better to you after 10 years of medical school and thousands of dollars of debt. In fact, it’ll probably feel worse to you at that point. Don’t set yourself up for bitterness.
If you set a goal you feel like you should be working on but it’s not really an emotional priority for you, it’ll just eat up your soul. Either don’t bother, or, depending on what it is (e.g. an income goal), find a heart-centered way to achieve it—but, still, don’t make the money in itself a priority, if it isn’t one. It’s about the work you love which earns the money. It’s about what comes from the heart.
Next there are Projects. Projects and Specific Goals overlap quite a bit. Really, all you do is take a specific goal and make it even more specific. So if one of my specific goals is to complete a 100-mile race, for instance, a project would arise from picking a particular race to run.
Where the Project label matters most is as a tool for prioritization. You are likely to have many goals which span a list of 10+ years, but you can only realistically handle 1-3 projects at a time. So, basically what you do here is pluck out 1-3 specific goals which you are to begin imminent work on. Ideally, these should be the goals that are most important to you.
An ongoing project I have right now is marketing my book. It is based on the goal, “I distribute 1000 copies of my book by 15 April 2016.” So, the project is due to be completed within the next 6 months, and work on this has already begun.
From your projects, you derive Plans. You can make a task-based plan, by which you list all the tasks you think you’ll need to do to complete your project, and then you divide those up into time-based plans. I have two larger time-based plans going on at once: a Quarterly Plan, and a Monthly Plan. The Quarterly Plan includes my specific goals and tasks to be completed within the next 3 months, and the Monthly Plan states what is to be done within the next month.
Whereas the complete list of specific goals is based on when I wrote up the list (e.g. “10 years out”), the Quarterly and Monthly Plans are based on the calendar year. So, the 4 quarters of the year are January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December. The current Monthly Plan applies to October.
Below these two plans are weekly plans and daily plans. I write out my goals for the week on a whiteboard in my bedroom. I wrote out more specific tasks I’d like to be completed at some point in the week in my daily planner. In my planner I write, in advance, any events that are occurring on certain days. Other than that, I usually don’t write out a to-do list for a given day until the night before. If I wait until the morning to make a plan for the day, I may have a harder time getting out of bed. :P
I placed Values before Plans, but I’ll mention it here, since it’s a little weird. With Values you return to the abstract. The reason it’s towards the end of the outline, however, is that values are subject to change.
Your values are simply the qualities you ought to embody to best complete your current projects. When I began broader planning for my business a few months ago, my top 3 values were Clarity, Hard Work, and Honesty. I needed clarity to develop a clear path for this new phase of my life. This was important above all else—otherwise, I would be doomed to fail. I had to do Hard Work in order to create that clarity and to create something of value to give to people. And I needed to be Honest with myself and with others about what I wanted and what I was doing, in order to set straight the new path I wanted to be on. Otherwise it might have been too easy to float back to school, and maybe even into a job (dun dun dun!).
About 4 months later (i.e. now), I decided it was time to change the order of my values list: things had changed considerably since I had written the first list. Now, my top 3 values are Service, Hard Work, and Caring. My primary focus is on helping other people and providing them with value. That is the way of business, and if I’m to really get off the ground that’s what I’ll have to do. To create strong, lasting value, I will have to do a lot of hard work. Finally, if I am to provide value I feel good about giving, I have to stay connected to what I care about—otherwise, my work will be heartless. To best serve, I must serve in the ways that light up my heart.
Don’t worry that the changing nature of Values means you’re amoral. Remember—your End Goals set the stage for the core principles and qualities that matter most to you. Your values simply shift the focus from one set of qualities to another.
So far, my Values lists tend to consist of 12-13 values. I think more than 15 values would be tough to keep track of, and I’d rather not do without the first 9.
Finally, once you have a sound, agreeable plan in place, it’s time to take action. Go go go!
All in all, making comprehensive plans based on the outline given here takes time and deliberate effort. But, once you have the higher-level part of your plan established it guides the course for all of your goals and time-based plans, and you have that guidance for months to years to come. The clarity and inspiration you gain through planning is incredibly worthwhile—you’ll get much more done each day, it’ll be much harder for you to get knocked off course, and you can rest assured that you’re working toward something exciting and awesome.
Part 3: Bringing Stories and Plans Together
This is how some of the above planning elements translate in the context of story:
Larger Context = Story’s constraints and structure; Purpose of the larger story
Purpose = Moral of story (message; lesson)
End goals = Character development goals
Mission statement = Life-quest
Big Goals = Larger Quests
Vision = What you’d like to experience
Specific goals/Projects = Quests
And then values, plans, and actions are essentially the same.
Thus, a comprehensive plan is like a storyboard, or map of a story. You would find this (well, a shortened version of it) on the back of the book that contains your story. The author writes the plan; the character lives it, at the level of Action.
I know, I know—the word “Quests” is used multiple times, just as “Goals” is. Perhaps you can come up with some more creative terms for me. :)
The most evident take-away from the Story lens and the comprehensive planning system is that both encourage you to challenge yourself. Surely you would like your Big Goals to be worthy of your life’s purpose, just as you would prefer to read a story about a character who takes on a noble quest—specifically, one which requires a lot of work and character growth to complete.
Perhaps I’m just swept up into this bias at this point in my life, but the premise of Personal Growth is pretty much inescapable. It’s in our stories, it’s in our plans—it’s everywhere, just like stories themselves are.
The more you delve into planning or into any subjectively-based perspective, the more you’ll find yourself pushed to be your very best. And yet, it’s not a painful push… At least, not merely. It’s inspiring.
It’s amazing to contemplate all of the things I never before even imagined as possible. And on the other side of those tasks, whether I complete them successfully or not, I become a new person. Why should I not want the push? It’s an ongoing, unfolding process that becomes more beautiful with each passing day. And boy, does it make my life gratifying.
It’s not that I can’t live without it, but it’s difficult for me to believe that the larger story isn’t about growth. If it truly is, then I am glad to have relayed the proper story to all my fellow heroes. And if it isn’t, then I guess all I’ll have told is a story.
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Note: The concept of viewing life as a story is based on Steve Pavlina's Hacking Reality: Subjective Objectivity.
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