Why It’s Totally Okay If You Threw Your 5-Year Plan Out the Window

Picture the span of five years: What can happen between the ages of 15 and 20? And what can happen between being a freshman in college and being a graduate? People evolve, as do their dreams, especially over the course of a half-decade.

Here, we discuss the five-year plan (and its flaws) with Jennifer L. Silvershein, LMSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating adults who suffer from anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Silvershein presents her “ABCs” of goal-setting: achievable and believable then commit. “We live in a world of ‘would’ve, should’ve, could’ve’—which leads us to regret,” she says. “I tell my clients to stop ‘should-ing’ on themselves. So often, we have an idea of what we should be doing but, for some reason, aren’t making the connections to make the change. When this happens we have two choices: one, continue ‘should-ing’ on ourselves and making ourselves think as though we’re doing something wrong. And two, make a change by recognizing what we previously wanted is no longer working and begin to recognize what may work better.”

We have to be realistic about our expectations and about the process, which is why the five-year plan has its limitations:

A one-year plan (or bite-sized goals) should complement a five-year plan

So, you’ve set a five-year plan. When do you start? On day one? On day two? On day three? This approach, which spans a period of 1,825 days, is prone to procrastination. For example: What about a plan to read 60 books? If we want to succeed, we complete a book a month—for five years. Because what is an aim without a plan? Well, it’s a dream. (Where’s the wand?)

The benefit of a process that features a short-term goal (or a series of short-term goals) is the establishment of a method, a route to success. Plus, with small achievements, we can encourage and re-encourage our motivation. A sense of progress can enhance our determination. This isn’t about success (singular); it’s about successes (plural).

Five years is long—and you know more and more than you used to

Our expectations for what we want or, even, what we need evolve with our experiences, and so do our choices. Consider this: We have careers in 2016 that we didn’t have in 2011. (For example, Instagram was started in 2010, creating a market for positions like “influencers.”) Because, what’s the point of becoming more educated when it isn’t applied and/or reapplied? It’s okay to reconsider and it’s okay to reroute. The alternative? Adhering to a plan we’ve outgrown, which would be #tragic.

The focus should be on the process, not the product

Our attention should be on the process, not the product. In fact, we should be able to revel in progress. Steps are positive, and we earn these rewards whether we attain the five-year plan or not.

Silvershein shares her buzzword: acceptance. What changes have been effective? Consider a goal, like a marathon: It’s okay when we don’t reach the 26.2188 miles. The process is important, and the benefits of taking on the challenge worthwhile. Remember to pause to celebrate the progress, which can include improvements in endurance or strength or, even, a chance to be introduced to a community of runners.

A five-year plan is moot without habit formation

The point of a five-year plan is growth. What happens when your habits are constant for a half-decade? Awards, like a BF/GF or a raise, could be placed in your hands but, without the habits to maintain these awards, we have an issue. Goals are to be achieved with effort with intent. (Otherwise, we would play the lottery.)

The definition of “habit formation” is the transition of a new behavior into an automatic behavior, which, according to research, is a process that involves about 66 days (or two months) of dedication. We nurture these behaviors so that we can flourish.

It’s crucial to be fluid with your dreams/goals

As discussed, people change, and so do their circumstances. With the occurrence of events, such as a move or, worse, a breakup or a termination, it is crucial to be “fluid,” according to Silvershein. Consider these challenges as chances to reexamine your ride. It’s normal for any plan to be tested. Our truth is in our “fluidness,” our resilience and our resourcefulness.



Elizabeth Quinn Brown is a writer based in the East Village who accessorizes her (pilates) spandex with wedges. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.