Strategic planning is typically thought of in terms of how large businesses and nations design a plan of action to accomplish their specific goals — but it is a fabulous tool for individuals as well. If you find yourself disappointed by your life, consider taking a look at how strategically you are living it.
Some people worry that being strategic is about being manipulative. Certainly there is a fine balance between passivity and trying to live life according to the “my way or the highway” approach to influencing the course of events. I think of being strategic as actively engaging in shaping and directing your life. It is about being thoughtful, careful, and purposeful — the antithesis of simply drifting along being caught up in whatever situations and circumstances you happen to bump into in the course of your life. Strategic living means being smart enough to embrace the opportunity of playing an active role in determining what you are creating, promoting and allowing in your life.
If you were investing in a business, wouldn’t you want to know that it was being run by individuals who were well versed regarding the opportunities and challenges they faced? Wouldn’t you want them to use their resources (people, money and time) in such a way that they maximized the company’s short- and long-term return on investment? Most likely, it would be important to you that these returns be measured not just in terms of money, but relative to such other factors as alignment with the company’s mission, and their commitment to such values as integrity, social consciousness and the quality of their relationships with employees and other stakeholders.
Now, let’s apply this thinking to how you assess your own life choices. Being strategic is about getting off autopilot behavior and being thoughtful about the choices you make in your life. It means living within the context of having a good understanding of who you are, what matters to you, and what resources and options you have available.
As a life coach, I work with this perspective as a means of increasing my clients’ self-awareness, wellbeing, enjoyment and creative self-empowerment. Making thoughtful and strategic choices about how you live your life can have an enormous impact on your level of satisfaction and enjoyment.
There are three fundamental, ongoing, and interrelated activities involved in strategically living your life. They are: creating a plan, keeping track of results and altering your course based on those results and the unanticipated surprises life brings your way. A good strategist needs a great sense of humor and an appreciation for the power of the unknown because no matter how thoughtful and thorough your planning techniques, life will throw you curve balls. It’s humbling, but the alternative of having no plan means being at the effect of your life rather than being an active participant and driving force.
Our lives tend to be very complex and to include conflicting priorities and demands on our time. A seasoned life strategist is like a juggler trying to simultaneously stay on course with specific plans for each major aspect of his or her life. For example, you might have plans for your spiritual life, family, career, finances, etc. For a novice planner, I suggest picking the one area of your life where you are experiencing the greatest challenges and starting there. As you stabilize one area of your life, develop a plan for another aspect and learn to develop skill in making the tradeoffs that are necessary between the various aspects of your life.
Whether strategically planning for your entire life or just one area, here are some suggestions:
When developing your plan:
- Begin by identifying what you value most that is essential to your success and happiness.
- Take stock of your resources.
- Set one to three measurable goals that are in alignment with your values and realistic in terms of your resources. For example, “I want to lose five pounds by November 1, 2013” rather than “I want to lose weight.”
- For each goal, develop a plan of action — what specifically needs to be done, when, where, and by whom to achieve success?
- Consider who else will be affected by you pursuing your plan and enlist their support.
- Always remember that reality will never match your plans — be a good sport and expect unanticipated occurrences.
When keeping track of results:
- Set up some consistent method of keeping track of how well you are doing as you move forward in time. How will you know if you are on course or not to achieve your desired result?
- Create a visual measurement tool. For example, if you are working to lose weight, you might record your weight every morning.
- Be honest with yourself, pay attention to results, and respond and adapt accordingly.
When altering your course:
- Use your feedback as feed forward. You will never know ahead of time what is going to happen. Don’t give up because life is different or harder than you expected. Just alter your expectations and plans as needed and expect that to be part of the process. After all, it’s not so much about reaching the finish line as it is a matter of developing your skills and abilities and doing your best.
Ultimately, strategic living is an organic process of fully engaging in your own life. So dream, imagine and plan for your heart’s desire to manifest in your life. Our dreams are much more fun when we actually bring them to life.