The lost art of planning

Living in the moment seems to be having a moment. But has our obsession with mindfulness meant we’ve lost the art of thinking long-term? Katy Regan looks ahead (for a change)


The lost art of planning

Mindfulness. It’s the buzz­word of ‘the moment’; the mental fitness craze that promises to make your life less crazy.

According to the dictionary definition, mindfulness is ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment’, and a therapeutic practice that seems to have hit cult status of late. And I’m all for it – less fretting about that presentation you have to do in a month’s time for example, or that recent night out where you feel like you embarrassed yourself and cringe every time you think of it.

This isn’t a rant about why mindfulness might be bad for you – it’s more I’m worried that by focusing so much on the present, we have (OK, I have) forgotten to plan for the future.

It wasn’t always like this. In my teens, all I did was plan for the future – I mean everything. I’d plan not just what I was going to wear on a Saturday night a month in advance, but design it too and then get my mum to run it up on her sewing machine (bless her!). These days I’m often dragging things out of the laundry bin and giving them a quick spot wash because I haven’t even planned enough to make sure that what I want to wear is clean.

In my twenties, my planning turned to how I would write for my dream magazine (managed that), write a novel (and that), meet The One (oops!), get married and have kids even though I’ve no idea how I thought I would ever achieve all of this with the number of other smaller matters I was constantly planning – when I look at my Filofaxes from that time, they are crammed full of plans and goals, all written in tiny, fevered handwriting.

Obviously my living-for-now tendencies could be a symptom of my age, and stage in life. I’m 39 now. Life has been so very busy with a child and juggling two jobs that it’s been something of a miracle if I’ve managed to stack the dishwasher every day, let alone remember to plan things that I’d really like to happen like, well, get a boyfriend, and go to San Francisco.

However, in one of those age-39-style epiphanies recently, it suddenly struck me that in the last decade, my life has hardly changed at all. I've been so wrapped up in thinking ‘all we have is now’ that I’ve glided along in the present while the future was sidling up beside me, ready to bite me hard on the bum.

Now that it has, I feel like I didn’t consider enough what it would actually feel like to reach the age of 40 without that much-wanted second child; to not yet be settled and enjoying the fruits of all the long-term plans that I made.

Because I didn’t make any! I forgot to really think about what I wanted out of my life in the longer term. I simply got too good at living in – and accepting – my present.

Of course, we could all get run over by a bus tomorrow, but presuming we don’t, it’s suddenly occurred to me that there’s a whole lot more life to live, and it might just be more the life I want if I plan it a bit more.

So, I have started planning again. I’ve thought, for the first time really, what my overall aims are – a relationship, a house, a change to my working life which means that I’m not working in such a solitary way all the time.

And guess what? I’ve started not only to make plans but also to put them into action: accept a friend’s offer of matchmaking (check); join a dating site and actually use it, rather than do the new gym membership equivalent (check); self-start as a writing trainer for PR agencies so that I get to go into offices and meet some people in my working day (check).

As you can probably tell, I’m feeling quite pleased with myself. We all know that saying about the best laid plans, but at least I know that if things still don’t materialise in my next decade, at least I tried to craft my life, rather than sitting only in the moment, watching it all going on around me.

How to create a five-year plan

1. We drift because we are not clear about what we want. Think five years forward, what do you want your life to look like? Be specific. What work would you do? Where would you live? Who would you share your life with? How do you spend your spare time? How much money do you earn?

2. Now, start creating some specific realistic goals to work on in the next 12 months and take action. Do you need to save money? Create a saving plan and set up a standing order. Do you need to retrain? Then sign up for a college course. Want to want to settle down and have babies? Sign up to an online dating site and commit to going on one date per week. Break down your goals into actionable daily baby steps.

3. Imagine you have achieved all your goals and you are living your ‘dream life’. What would that dream give you? For example, freedom? Security? Love? How you can live those values right now in your daily life?

Photograph: ImageSource