Part 0 provided background.
Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process:
1. Identify your aim.
2. Analyze relevant factors.
3. Consider the courses of action available to you.
4. Select the most appropriate course of action and develop your plan.
Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and tackle Step 1: what are we trying to achieve through all this planning?
This is trickier than you might think. On the surface, we all know that the aim is to live well. But we need to look under the hood and see what living well is actually comprised of. Not just what, but also why.
The importance of this exercise can’t be overstated: a clear aim gives us a sense of purpose that informs and guides the remainder of our planning effort, as well as our subsequent execution of said plan.
Our aim is the “where am I going? (and why)” portion of “where am I? where am I going? how do I get there?”
In preparing to write Plan Your Escape, I asked friends and family what they want out of life. I got two types of response. The overly vague: “I want to be happy”. And the overly precise: “I want to be an organic farmer”, or “I want to own a coffeehouse”, or “I want to live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean and never work again”.
Both types of answer demand clarification.
To the person who says they want to be happy, I ask “What is happy comprised of?”
To the person who says they want a farm, or a nice house and no work, I ask “Why? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
Somewhere in between platitudes about happiness and defined outcomes involving farms and houses, lies the essence of the good life: the intangible, descriptive effects that we want to achieve, which we believe will make us happy.
Take, for instance, that person who says they want to own a farm. Do they really? Or do they want a life characterized by attributes that they think farming will provide? Because owning a farm is not an end unto itself. It’s not a what, it’s a how. It’s one possible means among many to achieving a set of underlying effects. Perhaps our would-be farmer envisions a life of independence, good physical health, and contact with nature. Perhaps they assume that farming will be a simple, care-free existence. Perhaps they think organic farming will make their community better.
So instead of saying:
I want to be an organic farmer.
They might say:
My intent is to live well by achieving four desired effects: simplicity, economic independence, community involvement, and good health.
Upon further review and analysis, they may decide that the best course of action is to be an organic farmer. On the other hand, they may decide to embrace minimalism, rent a small apartment in a city with lots of green space, and become an advocate for dedicated cycling lanes on their streets. Both courses of action will achieve the aim.
Establish Your Intent
How do you identify the effects you want to achieve? By asking yourself questions. Start with the one I asked at the end of Part 1:
What do you think it means to live well?
Actually, let’s rephrase that:
What will it mean to have lived well?
Because that’s really the one that counts, right? I find it useful, because it puts the day-to-day stuff into perspective.
If you’re a visual person, you might use a mind map…start with “the good life” in the centre and work outward from there.
Or, you could project yourself forward into an imagined future where you’re living well. What does that look like? What elements are present? What elements are absent? Why?
The key is to get beyond–or rather beneath–the material, status-based, or situational outcomes that you have in mind. A healthy dose of skepticism comes in handy, and you might just conclude that you’ve led yourself astray. The first time my wife and I really did this, we sold our house. Why? Because a house in the suburbs simply didn’t jibe with the attributes that we saw in our desired future: financial flexibility, maximum leisure, minimum stress.
You may see an entirely different future for yourself. You might throw everything into the hopper and determine that your long-term aim is characterized by strong relationships and economic stability.
The point is that you deconstruct your image of the good life and reduce it to its essence, as opposed to manifestations of that essence. Focus on the effects you want to achieve:
My aim is to live well by achieving a situation characterized by the following desirable effects…
I’ll leave you to it. Next week, armed with your thoroughly considered aim, you’ll start to refine the problem by examining all relevant factors and analyzing their impact.
See you next week.