Last week’s post was all about how much more you can achieve in life if you make a plan that’s aligned with who you are and what you want, and then stick to that plan (missed it? Read ‘Stick to the Plan’ here). The idea is that magic happens when we stick to our plan - even when obstacles, which can come from either the outside world (e.g. it’s raining) or our inside world (I don’t feel like it, I’m scared) come up.
But how do you make sure that your plan is worth sticking to? How do you make a decision so you won’t be tempted to second guess?
The answer lies in following a step-by-step checklist that covers all the areas that go into creating a good plan. That way, you know your decision is well considered and the best option. It’s a little time consuming, so it’s best for big plans and decisions that you really want to get right. I’m going to use the example of whether or not to move house as an example throughout this blog. It’ll make the whole process a bit more tangible. Are you ready to learn how to plan? Then let’s go!
Step 1: Write it all down
The most important thing to do when you’re feeling stuck about how to make a plan, solve a problem or make a decision is to WRITE IT DOWN!
You need to work through all the rest of the steps either on paper or in a written document on your computer – it can’t just be done in your head. This is because you need to be able to capture all of the information at once and see it in black and white. Writing it down like this stops you from thinking in circles, clarifies your thoughts, and allows you to make better decisions about how likely an outcome is.
Writing it down is also helpful if you decide to share the decision making process with another person/ people, as it captures all the relevant information for them in one place.
Want a worksheet to make it easier to do the rest of these steps? Click here to get my guide to working through all these steps on your own problem.
Step 2: What’s the problem?
Identify and define the problem you have/ the decision to be made/ the area you’d like to create a plan for. You need to be really specific. It’s also helpful to break up the decision into a series of yes/no decisions if you have lots of options, it simplifies things. So with the moving house example, the decision is: Should I move house? It’s not should I stay or go. Staying is the default option, what will happen if you do nothing. It’s important to consider, but the plan will be needed only if you move.
Beyond that, you might have a series of options: should I move to – this town/ that town/ that other place.
Step 3: What matters here?
Why are you entertaining the plan? What don’t you like right now, that you want to change?
Be sure to find a ‘positive’ answer to this question. This means find a way to move towards something you like, rather than simply away from what you don’t like.
Example: If you’re keen to move house, why? Are you keen to increase your job opportunities? If yes, why’s that? Do you need a more satisfying career or do you just need to make more money? If you want to move because you’re too close to your ex, then what’s a positive way to state this? Perhaps it’s about having more peace in your life? Get clear on why you’re considering this course of action – what matters to you?
Step 4: Get creative
List all the possible options for moving forward – aim for creative and even slightly unrealistic thinking (aka brainstorming/ blueskying). This step is strongly linked to step 3. In identifying your why, you’re not just tapping into what you value in life that you want more of, you’re also opening up the possibility of creative solutions. If you needed to move house in order to get a better job to get more money, then perhaps there are other ways to make money which would solve your problem without moving house. If you were moving to escape the ex, then perhaps learning meditation, going to mediation or changing your schedule could fix the problem.
Even if it’s pretty straightforward, list out all the alternatives you can. It can really help to get someone else’s input on this too – other people look at the world differently to us and can generate some great ideas!
Step 5: Get picky
Now you’ve explored all your alternatives, and you know why you’re making a plan in the first place, you’re allowed to get more selective. We went really wide to capture lots of ideas and information, now we start to narrow them down.
Rank the solutions. Give them two rankings: how much you like the idea, and how reasonable/feasible it is. For example, winning the lotto may be a very attractive option (9/10), but very unlikely (1/10). It gets a score of 10/20 overall. Using this two part system means you address both the logical and emotional aspects of the situation. It also helps you to acknowledge that perhaps either your head or your heart is a stronger influencer than you thought!
Rate all your options.
Step 6: Pros and Cons
This is a well known decision making tool – listing out what is good or bad about each of the top 3-4 solutions. Notice how far down the list it is though! There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to clarify what’s really going on for you before you get to this step.
Step 7: What’s the worst?
This is really important as it actually helps you to realise a couple of important facts. Either you’ll figure out that you can live with the worst possible outcome of following something that really appeals to you, and it’ll calm your fears (this often happens when you realise the worst outcome is failing, or being rejected, or some other emotional type wound that won’t threaten your physical safety). Or else you’ll realise the worst outcome is actually something you don’t want to live with, and you’ll give up on something you wanted to do but which, when considered this way, means it just isn’t worth the risk (like if you went for your business goal and it tanked, you’d lose the house and jeopardise your family’s safety – there will be better ways to pursue your business dreams!).
Step 8: Who Cares?
In the nicest possible way! Related to the example in the last point, be sure to consider who else your plan will impact. Think about how your choices will impact your relationships with others. This is really important to consider because if there will be significant negative impact on other people, such as your family, you might decide not to move, even if it were up to only you, you certainly would. If there’s a clash between what you and others want, you’ll need to think about what’s more important to you: the thing you value that you’re chasing with your plan, or your relationships with the people it will effect.
Step 9: Commit!
Now that you’ve considered all of the above, you can make your plan or your decision. You can do so confident that you have considered all the relevant elements that could impact your plan.
Step 10: Make a list like this one
Once you have chosen your option, then you need to list out, step-by-step, everything that needs to be to fulfil the plan. You need to list every action you will have to take, and note down the order to do things in. It’s also most helpful to pencil in when and how you’ll take each action (e.g. when will you call the real estate agents in the new area? How will you search for those agents? When will you do that?).
Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is follow through on your list. Work through each item in order, and make adjustments as new information comes to light (hopefully only minor adjustments because you did such a thorough planning process already!).
When you’ve made it to here, you can breathe a big sigh of relief. You have a plan, and you have a map as to how you’ll act on that plan. Wave goodbye to feelings of indecision, or worrying you’ve made the wrong choice. You’ve done all you could to make a good decision and you’ve written a plan that gives you the greatest possible chance of success. Well done!
Would you like a worksheet that covers all of the above, so you can easily make your own amazing plans? Just click here, enter your email, and the worksheets will be e-mailed straight to you!
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.