For at least the last six months, I have felt that my life is going through a period of change and unpredictability. It’s been very difficult for me to imagine what would be happening a year in the future, as there seem to be lots of yes/no conditions happening. Because of that, my thoughts around the future have had to be along the lines of “If X happens, then Y, but if X doesn’t happen, then Z”, which is a fairly unsatisfying way to plan. Since I finished a long period of study last autumn, I’ve felt the need for a new 5-year plan and am finding it really frustrating that I’m not in a position to create one. I find it very comforting to have one. These are all the reasons why I feel better with a 5-year plan in my pocket.
- You realise where you are now
While you’re on the treadmill of life, it can be difficult to notice your current situation and what is happening to you. In order to create a 5-year plan, you have to look at your starting point. In order to create a plan, you have to think about your current life, and how you would like it to be different. Imagining yourself five years from now, in the same situation as now, can be an incredible wake-up call if you’re feeling stagnant. Of course, it can also be fantastic validation if your current situation is where you want to be, or even on the right track. Even if you’re exactly where you want to be right now, you’ll probably need to do something to stay in place and keep your situation from deteriorating over time.
- You think about what you want
A 5-year plan is permission to imagine the best possible scenario. Who knows what will happen in five years? It’s long enough that you can imagine goals which you might rule out as unrealistic in a shorter timescale. However, something about thinking that far ahead also makes you aware that time is passing and so you might as well do what you want, rather than what other people think you should. While thinking about your current situation, as mentioned above, you might realise that you couldn’t bear to be five years older and working at the same job, for example. In this stage of your 5-year plan, you can start thinking about what’s wrong with the current situation and what would need to change for it to improve. If you already love your life, you can think about what needs to stay the same e.g. maintaining your position at work or your health.
- You can set goals
It’s all very well dreaming about your amazing future after things have changed for you, but dreaming won’t be enough to get you there. A 5-year plan gives you the ability to set measurable goals which will lead to where you want to be. The very point of making a plan is to look at where you want to be in five years, and identify the intervening steps.
- You can see whether you’re on track
If you have goals and a 5-year plan, you can easily identify whether you’re heading in the right direction. Without them, it’s easy to drift along and not think about where you are or where you want to be. Your 5-year plan effectively acts like the emergency lights on the floor of an aeroplane, pointing to where you want to end up.
- You can see if you’re going wrong
Related to the point above, in terms of tracking your progress. However, as you go along, you may also realise that where you’re going wrong is with your goal-setting in the first place. Perhaps you have a goal to lose weight because you think you should, but what makes you happy is trying different foods every night and baking at the weekend. A 5-year plan can highlight if your goals are not actually steering you the way you want to go.
- The future seems more attainable
An oft-touted benefit of goal setting is that the act of breaking down your dreams into smaller steps will make them seem easier to achieve.Maybe you want to have £1 million in the bank. Already, splitting that goal into five yearly amounts of £200,000 seems more manageable.
- You can judge what’s realistic
Following on from that, if you currently earn £20,000 per year, you can see that saving ten times that amount is not very realistic. But this is where deeper examination of your goals can come into play. Do you actually need £1 million or is it a figure plucked from the air? Let’s say you examine what you want the money for, and realise you could get by on £250,000. It’s still over your annual earnings, so then you’d know you need to start looking at other income sources and building them into your 5-year plan.
- You become more aware of time passing
This relates to the point above about drifting along. Sometimes I look at goals which will take the full five years to achieve, and think “what’s the point, I’ll be so old by then”. Always remember that time will pass anyway. You can spend five years working towards your dreams, or you can spend five years passively floating through your life. Either way, you’ll be five years older, so why not go for the option which brings you a better life?