Planning for your future: Setting out to change things is trying

How to Change Your Life: In the last of the series, we show you how to enact the changes you want to make in life

Specificity and honesty are key when examining our futures. Photograph: Getty Images

Specificity and honesty are key when examining our futures. Photograph: Getty Images


Over the course of this series, we’ve looked at how to change your life in terms of finding your purpose, addressing work and career, addressing relationships, and changing your life through your state of mind. In the final piece of the series, we’re going to look at concrete steps to change your life through examining your future, and looking at what’s next. 

How can anyone move an assessment and exploration of where they’re at in their life into the future? Being aware of your control in situations, your ability to change, your ability to change your circumstances and your ability to enact those changes is central to actually making the type of progress you want. But while bobbing along in the world is a great way to be – and one that is often quite carefree – structure and intentions can create change in a more effective way. 

We invest time in planning “things” but often don’t plan “us”. A practical way of doing this is writing an annual (or more frequent) assessment of your life and environment, and plan where you’re at and where you want to be. Revisiting these plans allows us to maintain a focus on our goals, and also offers an opportunity to assess progress and mark achievements.  

So what should this plan entail? In a way it’s both an audit and a declaration. When we look at something such as a budget, we set out how much money we have and what we’re going to spend it on, and the process of putting these things on paper means we’re much more likely to follow what we set out to do. The same can go for planning one’s future in the broader scheme. 

Examining aspects of your life that are working well, and then identifying what it is you want to do and where you would like to be in the near future, is the foundation of this type of planning. 

Creating short- and long-term goals (and short-term goals should be stepping stones towards the longer-term ones) can clarify and make real and practical a lot of your intentions. There is also an invisible power to articulating these things out loud and physically writing them down. You may not be particularly enamoured with the language and subliminal art of manifesting things or positive visualisation, but there is something to be said for not fearing what we want, and articulating that we want to get it. 

Mark Pollock, an explorer and motivational speaker, is someone who inspires many people, and he in turn is inspired by explorers. “The reason I’m inspired by those types of people is that they are pursuing something wildly ambitious,” he says. “There’s no doubt that they’re pursuing success, but running alongside that is the absolute guarantee that up until this point in history the endeavour has failed. They know it comes with inherent risks of failure, but explorers are necessarily defined by their willingness to try.” It’s that willingness to try that we need to go with. Setting out to change things is trying, and cannot be defined by success or failure, and often may lead you down avenues you never thought you’d find yourself. But trying is everything.  

Be honest

Ask yourself what you really want. When it comes to outlining a dream life or goal, you have to be honest. What do you really want? Another child? To move from an urban to a rural setting or vice versa? To change jobs? To master a specific hobby? To pursue a particular talent? To have a better relationship with your parents? To get out of a housing situation that has a negative impact on you? To improve your health and fitness? If you could have or be anything, do anything, or live in a certain way and there were no limits, what would you write down? Often when posed with these questions, we tend to think superficially about “things”, but when we contemplate them for more than a few minutes, our dreams are actually quite realistic, and with commitment are also attainable. Things that might seem “pie in the sky” can be within reach if we identify them clearly.

Breaking things down into categories such as work, life (relationships, hobbies, travel and so on), and  living situation (rent, mortgage, the prospect of buying a place, moving within an area, leaving that area or country) helps clarify those key aspects of our lives, instead of feeling overwhelmed about life as a whole. 

After looking at the big picture, as well as projecting one’s ambitions into the future, the next step is to get practical. What do you need to do to achieve the things you’ve just outlined? Breaking down the practicalities of achieving things creates a link between you right now in the “real world” and the moves you need to make to get out there into the “dream world”, and make those dreams real. “Dream life” may sound a bit faffy, but remember, this isn’t about “daydreams”. This is about things you want that will make you happy and fulfilled. This does not mean they have to be huge ambitions. It’s all about being honest about what you really want and how you really want to live.

When you characterised your current situation, and then look at where you want to be, the change part is in between, and you should be able to start identifying the steps that will take you from the present to the future. If you are a junior person in a company and want to be senior in that company, this requires individual steps, not one giant move. Outline the trajectory that would entail. This moves the goal away from the abstract and into a path that is actionable.

Mark Pollock: “Explorers are necessarily defined by their willingness to try.” Photograph: Eric Luke
Mark Pollock: “Explorers are necessarily defined by their willingness to try.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Stalling is okay

Remember that quitting or stalling can be part of this process. We have a tendency to punish ourselves and typify missteps or attempts that don’t work out as failure. Changing our perspective on those things allows us to keep going. It’s only when we’re repeating patterns that may be circular in blocking ourselves from making changes that we need to examine that further.

“On pitfalls, stalling and setbacks,” Pollock says, “I come back to the Nietzsche quote: ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ Sometimes you have to step out of your world for a moment and ask why you are doing something in the first place. If you can answer that question, it can give you a guiding principle.”

Don’t let other people define your value. We spend our lives categorising and labelling people, but we too are affected by other people’s expectations. This may happen in a work context where you’re viewed as the person who does one thing but can’t do another, or it may happen in a group of friends or in a family structure where you fulfil a certain role or are seen as a certain kind of person with certain traits. Be honest with the people you share your life with about what things you want to change.

Specificity and honesty are key when examining our futures. But there’s also another big thing that needs to happen. You have to park cynicism. Cynicism as a defence mechanism, or a way to avoid failure by not trying, or dragging other people who are trying to achieve things down because of your own self-worth is totally unhelpful, and not fun to be around. Self-doubt hinders us in so many ways, whether we externalise or internalise it. Parking these feelings and being secure enough to be honest with yourself will reap far more dividends than negativity ever will. 


1. Be honest with yourself about what you want.

2. Start planning. Big change may seem intimidating, but generally it’s made up of small steps.

3. If you open yourself up to change, and articulate things you want, they will probably come faster than running away from potential change or possibilities.

4. Quitting or stalling for a moment does not mean giving up entirely.

5. Don’t let others define your value.

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