7 Steps to Create a Plan to Change Your Life (And Stick to It!)

What would you do if you realized you needed to change your life? Would you sell almost everything you own? Leave your job? Buy a one-way ticket to Ecuador?

That’s exactly what author Kim Dinan did. In her memoir, The Yellow Envelope, she describes her journey from unfulfilled employee to globetrotting writer. She left her well-paying job, got rid of most of her belongings, sold her house, and pursued her dream to travel and write.

But she didn’t do it all in one fell swoop. The reality is, it took her nearly three years from the moment she made the decision during a run in Oregon to the moment it all came to fruition when she touched down in Ecuador.

It takes time and planning to get to where you want to be. Whether your goal is to see the world, pursue a new career path, or get out of debt for good, here are seven things to keep in mind when creating a plan to change your life.

1. Have a clear, measurable goal.

How will you know you’ve reached the destination if you have no idea what it looks like? Instead of saying, “I want to see the world,” a better way of articulating that goal would be, “I want to take one year to volunteer in every continent.” That way, you’ll know exactly when you’ve reached your goal. Having clear parameters will also make it easier for you to make plans.

2. Break it into smaller, manageable steps.

Selling your house and seeing the world is a formidable goal. By breaking it down into smaller steps, you’ll ensure you don’t give up before you’ve even started. For example, you could break that down into

  1. Go through my closet and donate unneeded clothes
  2. List my furniture on Craigslist
  3. Call three real estate agents
  4. Host an open house
  5. Search for cheap flight tickets

Once you’ve written out smaller steps to take, you’ll feel much better about reaching your big goal.

3. Surround yourself with people seeking the same goal.

Dinan was married, so she knew she’d have to get her husband’s support for her crazy plan. She floated the idea to him one day, and slowly worked on him over time, giving him space to think about it. Once he was on board, they were able to work together as a team to sell the house and plan their trip.

You don’t have to be married to find a teammate. Enlist the help of a friend you can trust, or look for a local group. Let’s say you’ve decided to publish your first novel. Do a search on Meetup.com or ask around at your local libraries to find a writing group. You’re likely to meet people with the same goals if you can find a group that shares your interests.

Surround yourself with people who support your goal; that way, you can hold each other accountable and buoy each other through the tough times. Research shows that social support may make you more likely to reach your goals.

4. Regularly track and measure progress.

Let’s say your goal is to get out of debt. First, you’ll need to take stock of your current financial situation. Take a sheet of paper and write out everything you owe, from credit cards to student loans. On the next page, track your spending and your income.

Next, you’ll need to regularly track and measure your progress. Do this every day at the start. As with the above example, it’s as simple as putting pen to paper. If you prefer a digital method, you can try habit tracking apps like Productive or HabitBull. This will do wonders for staying motivated because you’ll be able to see concrete evidence that your plan is working. And if it turns out it’s not, you’ll be able to make tweaks to your plan as needed.

5. Don’t be discouraged by inevitable setbacks.

No matter what your goal is, one thing’s for sure: There will be setbacks. It’s inevitable. Accept at the beginning that there will be bumps along the road to your goal, and you won’t be so discouraged when they happen.

When Dinan signed up for the Rickshaw Run, a 3,000-kilometer adventure across India in an auto rickshaw, she had no way of knowing her team would get a faulty vehicle. It broke down more times than she could count, but instead of giving up, Dinan allowed those setbacks to build her resilience and help her experience the kindness of strangers. It made it all the sweeter when she finally crossed that finish line in Kerala.

6. Celebrate the milestones.

Don’t get so caught up in reaching your goals that you don’t stop to enjoy the small victories along the way. Celebrate each milestone you reach. For example, if you’ve set a goal to publish your first novel, reward yourself with chocolate after you’ve penned the first chapter, or go out to dinner with friends when you’re halfway done with the manuscript.

If you fail to acknowledge the small victories on the way to your big goal, you’re likely to feel discouraged. Give yourself a pat on the back sometimes, even for the little things. After all, you’re one step closer to your goal each time. That’s definitely something worth celebrating.

7. Be open to a change of plans.

Along the way, you will grow and your priorities may change—and that’s okay. If you find certain things are no longer important to you, it’s all right to make adjustments to your plan.

Maybe you get halfway around the world and realize you’d prefer to spend time at home with your friends and family. Or maybe you get to chapter three of your novel and decide you’d rather write a collection of short stories instead. Don’t feel like you have to adhere strictly to your original plan. Give yourself permission to change. A change of plans doesn’t necessarily mean you’re giving up. It could just mean you’re growing.

Deciding to Go for It

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step toward changing your life—deciding to do so. Armed with measurable goals, social support, a system to track your progress, and an openness to change, you’ll be well on your way to creating (and sticking to) that plan.