Yes I know I missed the boat on this one by a couple of months, but I’ve been busy!
Plus it’s useful to remember that we don’t need to wait for arbitrary days of the year to (Birthdays and New Year usually) to take stock and make plans. I view goal setting and planning as an on-going, iterative process, but whenever you do it, it’s undeniably an important process. After all, the crucial part of alternative lifestyle design as an idea is the design element. Whether that design is fairly formal (such as annual goal setting like I’m doing here) or is just lots and lots of informal dreaming and scheming with friends over beers or in your own head while falling asleep or out on long walks or sitting through a recent Adam Sandler movie, it’s the most important part of living intentionally: the life you want won’t just fall into your lap.
Until recently I would have fallen into the fairly informal crowd. Most of my designs have been reactions against cultural norms and popular lifestyles that seemed (and still seem to me) by degrees boring, pointless, stupid and insane. More recently I’ve seen the value and reward of creating structure and rhythm in my daily and weekly activities, I’m convinced that my years and decades will benefit even more from the same process.
So it’s February now and although I sort of outlined my goals for this year on paper back in October, I am a firm believer in the power of making your goals public in order to master the highly motivating power of peer pressure to your own advantage!
I also want to share a little bit of my process for identifying the areas of my life that I choose to set goals for. Saying you want to stop smoking or do more exercise or whatever is fairly pointless if you don’t understand why those things are important to you, and without that understanding you are probably likely to fail quite quickly and wait until the next New Year before trying and failing again. This is a cycle most of us know and mock, yet we persist with it anyway.
My process for this year began by identifying the areas of my life that are most important to me right now. Up until last year I’d pretty much been a workaholic for the previous 5 years – and I’d still say I’m a recovering workaholic – so I’m a classic case really. I identified those areas as:
- Personal Happiness
- Health and Fitness
- Relationships (friends and loved ones)
- Personal Finances
There is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ work that goes into even getting this far. I’m quite a reflective person anyway, so I normally have a pretty good idea of where I’m at from the background noise inside my head. But just thinking about that question – “what is most important to me right now” – is a good way to begin. Of course you need to scrutinise your answers to make sure that what you come up with is really true to yourself, and you may well be surprised at yourself the first time you do this. I remember feeling a mixture of joy and relief at seeing what I’d always known in the back of my mind finally written down as cold hard undeniable fact (it turns out I’m no Ghandi).
I find writing things down extremely helpful, especially because this kind of thing can take ages. Being able to look back through your notebook or diary to these reference points and then either develop them or just remind yourself about them is really important. Months can fly by but these things you’ve written and the feelings you associated with them will be there when you’re ready to come back to them.
I’m pretty much convinced that learning to be deeply happy is the most fundamental ingredient to living a good, positive life, and so this area will probably remain my top priority that everything else serves to satisfy. If that sounds selfish, go talk to the Buddha. My goals in this area are designed to encourage me to make deeper connections with myself:
- Slow down
- Be mindful
- Keep a daily diary
- Experiment with abstinence (booze, caffeine, news and technology)
- Be outside more
- Be more playful
- Smile and laugh more
- Spend more time with good people
This is all pretty vague, but it serves as a useful crib sheet. As I said, the rest of the categories in this post are all geared toward making me a happier, more fulfilled person, but these items here are specifically geared toward improving my general state of mind.
Health and Fitness
Do you remember how it used to feel when you were a kid running through the woods or zooming around on your bike or playing football until it was dark. When almost nothing could tire you out?! When staying indoors was what your parents did while you went out and enjoyed the world?! Well I remember and I want that feeling back!
I know that when I am fit and healthy and active that I am more energised and positive and creative and happy. This is a simple fact that I continue to neglect: the single most rewarding thing I can do with my time is physical activity outdoors, and the benefits of this activity cascade into every other area of my life, so although I probably value relationships and creativity and adventure more than being able to run really fast for a long time, if I am training to run really fast for a long time all of those other areas are going to feel the rewards.
It’s an added bonus that I also love to run like the wind and climb trees and mountains and be able to do handstands and move my body with control and ease. I’m not in terrible shape, but I could be in fantastic shape and that’s what I want to work toward this year.
I’m also turning 30 in a few months and I’m aware that my body is already past it’s physical peak. A few months of booze and neglect and a whole year of good training is pretty much turned into flab! If I want to enjoy my life fully for the next 30 or so years (and then enjoy good health for the next 30 in my old age) I need to get on the program now.
- Run 10k in under 40 minutes
- Run a marathon in under 3 hours 30 minutes
My goals here are quite simple, because in order to achieve them I’m going to have to take a total body approach to training. Long distance running at speed takes serious commitment and isn’t just about doing lots of running. Strength, muscle conditioning, diet and mental training are all very important.
So I will also be:
- Following the Slow Carb diet (have tried it, it’s awesome)
- Reducing my coffee habit (it stops me wanting to exercise)
- Practising yoga (all round body conditioning)
- Doing regular strength training
- Sitting down less (less laptop time and use of a standing desk)
My first test will be this high altitude marathon which I will attempt to run in less than 5 hours (it’s a monster!), and my ultimate goal is to smash the 3 hour marathon barrier which right now just seems insane to me, but which I’m sure I can do with proper training sometime in 2015.
I don’t really know how to set goals here without reducing my relationships with people to soulless numeric values, but I can continue to set the intention to put family and friends above other things that tend to get priority (work). More phone calls, letters, post cards, gifts, and holiday time with people I care about.
Study & New Skills
I have a real problem of being interested in too many things and trying to do too much and this can end up in not really doing anything, so this is an area that I hope will really benefit from some structure.
- Learn a new language: be able to read a Hindi language newspaper (currently I speak zero Hindi) – 20 hours study a month
- Choose one topic a month to study for at least 20 hours (I will likely focus these different topics around some central theme that is important to me – probably Borneo)
- Learn an instrument (possibly the fiddle…!)
- Do at least one course of at least a week (like multi-pitch rock climbing in Thailand!)
I think this is the area I am most likely to struggle with so I will make recording my progress and experience a regular part of this blog (especially the language and instrument learning ones since they are common skills that people would like to acquire).
Now, according to this book (and me!), I’m an explorer. And it’s true that my expedition work in Borneo takes me to amazing places and gives me some great adventure. So what do I need to worry about planning more adventure for?
Well, it’s work. It can be amazing and I certainly learn a lot and get a lot of experiences to talk about later, but I am ultimately responsible for, well, everything, including the safety of everyone involved. These expeditions, by their sheer size, can be incredibly stressful and my focus is on the smooth running of everything and not necessarily on the experience itself.
So I need some time each year to pursue personal adventures, that could be small and simple or big and epic, but if I don’t plan them I won’t do them.
- Take at least 8 weeks actual holiday (I’m self employed, don’t be a hater!)
- Go on at least one big personal adventure of around 4 weeks
- Have at least one mini-adventure a month (awesome weekend type thing)
- Enter at least 4 races
- Go to at least 1 festival
- Visit at least 1 new country
That list makes me really excited. I have already visited a new country (Thailand) and I’m going to be based in Himchal Pradesh, India, for the next few months so there should be plenty of opportunity for adventures big and small. I have no idea yet about what the big one will be though.
I think perhaps this one needs to be higher in the list. I’m quite sure I get the most satisfaction from my creative work, whether it’s crafting a blog post or filming during expeditions. This blog is a big part of my efforts to make writing a regular habit.
- Publish 100 posts on Soulchaser
- Write a book
- Make a short adventure film
- Produce first series of Soulchaser Podcasts
- Launch awesome new project (to be announced later)
That’s quite a lot but as I said I need to put this kind of stuff first when planning my daily routines, and if I can do that and stay disciplined then I’m sure I can achieve all of that.
I’m going to write a lot about money in the future, but right now let’s just say that I only began to think about my own finances like any kind of sensible person quite recently, and since then I’ve made leaps and bounds in terms of reducing my debt and spending, and understanding the power of living frugally and investing in order to actually retire on your savings a hell of a lot earlier than you would probably imagine is possible.
- Be debt free (excluding bloody student loans)
- Diversify income (articles, speaking engagements, private expeditions)
Although I’ve touched lightly on work in this last list I have deliberately refrained from putting a work category into this post. First, because it would be huge and probably not very interesting. Second, because my work has received so much of my attention over the past few years that one of central purposes of this exercise is to relegate it back to where it should be.
I care deeply about my work, but in order to continue being passionate about it and motivated to do it well, it cannot be the most important thing in my life. I succeeded in making that shift last year, and this year I intend to strengthen the foundations that were laid during that process.
Making it Happen
It’s all very well and good setting all these goals and fantasising about how awesome it would be to achieve everything, but dreaming is the easy part and if you want this to be more than simply an exercise in mental masturbation then you need to make some kind of plan that you can monitor and record your progress against.
Having made the shift back to a freelance, project-based lifestyle, my annual plan begins by blocking in my big work commitments throughout the year (mostly big expeditions and the prep time that goes into them) plus any other immoveable commitments. From there I can plan and structure my year around those commitments, thinking about everything else broadly in order of the priority I’ve given them:
- how much time do I need to train for races and what time of year should these be?
- given those dates, what time of year should my big personal adventures and holidays be?
- with the time remaining, what events or festivals do I want to attend or organise?
- where does writing a book and editing a film fit into this plan?
- does all this leave enough room for me to achieve my work (charitable and business) goals?
Once the year is planned out in this way you have some structure to build in those smaller, more granular activities. For example I can begin to design training plans for a specific race or see way in advance which months are going to be the ones where the majority of blog posts need to be written and therefore how many need to completed per week (and I can avoid planning too much else into those months). In this way my months and weeks begin to plan themselves.
It’s exactly the same philosophy applied by the professor who taught his students about life by first filling up a jar with stones, then pebbles, then sand, and finally water. Because he put the things in the right order, he could get everything he wanted in. If he’d started with sand or water, there’d be no room for the big, important things.
In real life we all know that if we don’t plan the big things then the little things like emails and last minute deadlines take over everything else, and we find that there’s no time left for the things we intended, and really wanted to do.
This process takes a while, but after a few iterations something exciting and achievable starts to appear. No doubt it takes discipline to stick to it, and a certain degree of flexibility must be built in and allowed for, but as a wise man once said, if you fail to plan…
What do you think? Do you have an annual plan? How do you prepare it? Did you find this helpful? Let me know in the comments.
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