As 2012 unfolds, are you spending your time working to achieve your well-planned goals and resolutions, or are you hanging back waiting to allocate your time, energy and talents to face what 2012 and your current circumstances have in store for you at the time?
In my business of giving people insight into their financial behavior, I see very different approaches to life planning with very different results. Despite those differences in perspectives, they all benefit from receiving objective feedback in what they're doing and how they would profit from incorporating another point of view.
This is a description about two very different ways of thinking about and living life. The first is what you might call the "well-planned life," the life with purpose defined and measured by high achievement, goal-orientation and completion. This life has been described by many experts, particularly in college commencement addresses. At one such address reported in the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago, Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, advised students to create a purposeful and well-planned life strategy early on and stick to it so that their life would be reflective of what mattered most.
For Christensen, a high achiever, life planning had been a struggle with reaching the balance between focusing on achievement of goals and spending time on less well-defined goal achievements as family and friends, which don't reveal concrete and immediate results. He gave examples of his peers who achieved great success in business but fell short in their social and personal lives with high rates of divorce and alienation from friends and family. Certainly, their new year's resolutions would never have included such failures and discontent in those aspects of life. But, as Christensen notes, people with a high need for achievement commonly misallocate their resources favoring concrete measures such as money and career advancement.
So, if you're a "resolver," you'll want to think about a more expansive plan for making your new year's resolutions and more general life plan to include those personal and social aspects of your life that you may short-change by habit. You'll want to jump out of your skin and experiment with a very different way of thinking and approaching life planning which will undoubtedly be initially uncomfortable.
The second way of thinking about life and how to approach it might be called the "reactive life." This mode of thinking starts from an entirely different perspective -- life-planning is not a project to be completed with a check list of objectives to be achieved, but rather an unknown destination to be explored. The belief is that, in reality, there is no way of knowing and predicting the best plan for a purposeful life or new year as external factors are unknown. These factors will play a significant role in dictating appropriate solutions to choices that may crop up.
"Reactors" scoff at regimented plans with objectives, structure and a fixed focus on purpose and goal achievement. They approach their life-planning with a set of ideals and values as a pre-cursor or filter by which they then make current decisions in how to achieve those ideals in allocating their time, talents and resources.
It's easy from a distance to see the benefits of each perspective, but people often don't have that ability to perceive themselves and their actions in a meaningful way while playing out their mindset and life orientation. So, it would seem a plan incorporating a balance of the two would be most advantageous.
As Americans, it's not easy if you're a "resolver" to deviate as we are reinforced for our concrete high achievement, just as it's a challenge to be a "reactor" following a less-defined plan in a nation of high achievers who are motivated by more concrete measures of achievement.
We have to break through those barriers and know that our goal can be balance. Once you come up with and live according to your more balanced purposeful plan, life appears to unfold as a well-designed project, well-conceived from the start and adjusted along the way toward a well-balanced fruition.