Exactly What You Should Do to Change Your Life In the Next Year

Only come inside if you’re sure you’re ready for this.

Everyone has a gift. I really believe that. In fact, most people have several of them.

Like, I’m good at making tacos and helping my kids calm down when they’re upset and figuring out what the third act twist will be in a movie before it’s half over.

But one of my best gifts is that I know what you should be doing.

I’m not sure why that comes so easily to me, but it does.

If I know you at all and I know your goal, I have this weird, preternatural ability to cut right through the bullshit and figure out exactly what you should be doing to reach that goal.

It comes, I think, from my affinity for ideas combined with an (often unfortunate) predilection for putting my foot in my mouth.

In other words, I’m a big mouth with good ideas. And, I can’t help it. I know what you should be doing. If you let me, I’ll make a plan for you that will take you where you want to go.

Whether or not you want to know what you should be doing is a whole other story.

You might rather pretend like there isn’t anything you can do to be successful.

I can’t tell you how many times I tell someone what they should be doing and they tell me that it’s impossible. I’ve learned that all I can do at that point is nod and make an empathetic sound and move on.

Once a person has decided that what they want out of life is impossible, changing their mind is something that has to come from within them. They have to want it. They aren’t in the change-space, you know?

So, I know what you should be doing. And it’s entirely possible that you’d rather sit there and believe with all your heart that you’re trying just as hard as you can to get what you want and nothing works and it’s not your fault, damn it.

You also might not really want to reach that goal.

Maybe it’s just something you’re giving lip service to. Not everyone has #lifegoals, after all. If it’s what other people want for you, but really you want something else entirely, you might say it’s a goal even though you’re not trying all that hard to make it happen.

Or maybe you’re just overwhelmed by the whole thing and all you want is to be left alone.

That’s okay, too. If you’re happy with where you are, who am I to argue? I might know what you should be doing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to want to do it.

So. I know what you should be doing.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is. Because I don’t know you and I don’t know your goals. If I could, I’d sit down with you and work out a plan. And, oh boy, it would be a good one.

This is my wheelhouse. If someone gives me free reign to tell them what they should be doing — forget about it. I’ll help them make a killer plan. And it’ll work, too. I know it’ll work, because I’ve done it for myself.

I’m constantly doing it myself. And I do it all the time for people I know.

But I can’t do it for you. I don’t know you or your goals. And you’re reading a blog post. We’re not sitting down at my kitchen table.

The good news is that you know yourself and you know your goals. And I can help you figure out what you should be doing. You can make your own plan. And then all you have to do is follow it to see where it takes you.

Spend some time figuring out where you are.

I actually started to name this section: spend some time figuring out who you are. But that’s wrong. You know who you are.

Lots of self-help gurus write these days about figuring out your ‘why.’ And I get it. It’s kind of sexy — if you know why you’re doing something, they have the mountain you’ll die on, right? You’ve picked your battle. You know what you’re willing to put it all on the line for.

But I figure that you already know that. Because you’re not stupid. You know what’s important to you. You know who you are. You know your why. I’m sure of it.

It’s way harder (even if it’s less sexy) to know where you are.

I talk to a lot of people in the course of my work and nearly all of them know they want to be successful because they want a better life for themselves and their families, or because they are artists and they have stories to tell. They’ve been ruminating on the why all their lives.

But they’re floundering around in the dark on the where. Where exactly are you starting from? You know where you want to go, but how can you get there if you don’t know where you’re coming from?

So spend some time thinking about that. Start here:

  • What are your experiences? (Good and bad. Mostly, though — honest.)
  • What work have you done in the past?
  • What are your regrets? (Conversely, what do you not regret at all?)
  • What do you do that no one else does?
  • What is a normal day like for you right now?
  • Do this exercise. (It should take you some time. Don’t rush.)
  • What do you believe? What do you not believe anymore?

Where are you? Freewrite on it. What are your assets, your skills, your resources. What’s working and what’s not. What do you love and what do you hate about your life right now today?

Spend some time figuring out where you want to be.

Once you have a good handle on where you are, think about where you want to be. This is just another way of asking — what are your goals?

I had a conversation with my husband the other night. We’re about as opposite as you can get when it comes to goals. I think it has something to do with our enneagram numbers. I’m a dramatic 4 and he’s a solid 9.

Kevin might, on a good day, have a single goal. And it’s probably something less than earthshaking. He lives very, very in the here and now. Who has time for goals when life is super busy today? If you ask him what his goal is today, he’d probably say something like getting the grocery shopping or the laundry done.

Me? I’ve got every single goal, every single day. All of them. All at the same time. I have enough goals for me and him and you and your grandma and her next door neighbor. My brain is a crazy house, I’m telling you. Ask me about goals today and you’re liable to get anything from world domination to world peace and everything in between.

(Probably not laundry or groceries, though.)

So, to hold on to my sanity, I limit myself to six goals. My Big Six. I usually set them as New Year’s Resolutions, although they’re subject to revision whenever the mood strikes me.

So maybe you’re like me and goals just come flying at your face all day long, or maybe you’re like my husband and goals are scarce for you. Doesn’t matter. This next exercise will work for you either way.

This is my favorite exercise from my favorite self-help book of all time, Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. She asks readers to write out a perfect day. Just spend some time writing, in as much detail as possible, what a perfect day would look like for you.

To make this easier for me, I think about a date in the future (otherwise I have trouble convincing my brain to let go of my current situation.) So — imagine that it’s five years from now. And your life is amazing. You’ve reached your most important goals and everything is just way you want it. You’re having a particularly perfect day. (Life isn’t perfect all the time, of course, but for this moment, it is.)

Here are some things to consider:

  • Where do you live?
  • Who do you live with?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • How much money do you have?
  • What time do you wake up?
  • What does your bedroom look like?
  • How do you feel physically?
  • What do you look like? How do you dress? (It’s okay to be superficial.)
  • How do you spend your perfect morning, afternoon, evening, night?

See? So even someone like my husband, who looks like a deer in the headlights if you ask him what are your goals, would be able to say that within five years he’d like to be out of debt, lose 50 pounds, and take a trip to Disneyworld.

Identify the gaps.

Now that you know where you are and where you want to be — take a look at the two and do a little analysis.

Imagine that you’re standing on a cliff and that perfect day is on another one across from you. There’s canyon in between. How big is it? What’s it filled with? Just start making a list of all of the things that you need to do to get from here to there.

  • What do you need to learn?
  • What do you need to start?
  • What do you need to stop?
  • What do you need to be brave about?
  • What do you need to be honest about?
  • Are there gaps that you don’t even know how to fill? Write those down, too.

The more precise you can be here, the better. If we were sitting down together, I’d ask you a bunch of questions. Since we’re not, you’re going to have to ask them of yourself.

What kind of business do you want to start? Can you lower your cost of living, so that you can quit your day job sooner? Why have you had ‘write a novel’ on your resolution list for ten years, but never actually done it? What’s keeping you from finishing your degree?

Keep digging until you know what that gap looks like.

Build a bridge.

This is the fun part. At least, I think it is.

Now that you know where you are, where you want to be, and what lies between — you can start to build a bridge to get from here to there.

This is the part where most people get confused or overwhelmed and just decide it’s impossible. They shut down or walk away or just kind over look across the gap and think well, isn’t that a nice dream.

And they stay nice and snug on their own side of things.

Like I said, I know what you should be doing. And you might not want to do it.

We’re going to make a plan.

Start by choosing a goal. It’s okay if, like me, you have dozens. Just pick one. Let’s say that your goal is to build an income stream.

Define your goal as distinctly as you can. How quickly does your goal need to be met? Is there some kind of outside pressure giving you a deadline? Let’s say that your rent is going up in six months and you need to increase your income by $300 a month by then.

Here’s where people tend to go off the rails. It’s easy to go a little nuts. Make a list of all of your ideas, but make yourself include the easiest, most obvious answers. Even if they aren’t your ideal or exactly what you want to do forever. List every possible idea, from the obvious to the ridiculous.

The reason this would be easier for me to do for you than it is for you to do for yourself, of course, is that I’m not biased by what you want to do. Once I know you and what your goal is, I’d just be able to say — well, this is what you should do. And you can do it, or not.

Like, if your goal is to create an income stream because your rent’s going up by $300 a month — I’d just tell you how you could do that. You’re going to be all caught up in what you actually want to do.

Try not to do that. At least for now, try to turn that bias off.

If your goal has a series deadline that must be met, you’re going to have to choose a fix that’s more immediate. If not, you can go with an idea that might take longer or has a bigger learning curve.

Just pick your idea. Then make a list of all the steps you’ll need to take to make that thing happen. At least all the steps you can think of. There might be things you don’t know of yet. That happens.

And here’s the part that’s most important: start taking the steps. Just one at a time. One after the other.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.

Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

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