Ben Explains: Lesson learned from a ‘5 Year Plan’

Trying to find a little ‘peace of mind’ can sometimes be the well-needed stress relief in a chaotic, high-speed world. Thinking in the long term could be a method to help you find that aid. Let’s discuss my experience with a ‘5 Year Plan’ and see if it can help you too.

The student bar at Oxford Brookes University was unusually busy on a Thursday night. The sporty people were spread over an area in the corner, the music types were hanging near the pool tables and the ‘in crowd’ were sitting at the bar chatting with the bar staff. Intermingled in all these groups were ‘everyone in between’ sitting, standing, chatting, laughing and having a pretty good time.  

Sean, my good friend, was talking to us about his plans for the future. Sean and I met during the engineering program introduction day and hit it off immediately. A little bit older than me, he became a big brother-type figure in my life.  We shared common interests and made each other laugh, though it was notable how often I was the butt of his jokes. He would sometimes play pranks on me and tell stories to strangers of my mishaps, but we were good mates. I kind of felt a bit of respect for him with the lessons and guidance he showed me along the way. If Sean slipped up on anything though, I was always there to pounce. 

On that night in the bar, Sean was discussing his ‘5 Year Plan’. My former, 20 year year old younger self had never heard of anything so grown up coming out from such a hoodie-clad-person. Sean detailed his career plan, his goals to save for an apartment and his intentions for him and his girlfriend’s future. He seemed to have it all figured out.

It is only reflecting back now, that I can appreciate how wise Sean’s words were. We all should have listened and made notes as if we were in a lecture from a proper professor. Solid advice, most likely handed down from his father to him, which Sean was gracious enough to share with his motley crew.  Regrettably, instead of seeing this advice for the value it carried, it was simply an opportunity for ridicule for my immature self. His advice was not ‘normal’ at our age, and with anything not normal, it was open for mockery. I pasted him that night for his fancy ‘5 Year Plan’ and little was said about it ever again.. 

In those subsequent years after graduation, I followed my dad’s way of thinking. Solve one problem, then wonder what is next, or react to the next thing coming your way. I was in completely ‘reactive’ state of mind, as opposed to  the logically laid out ‘active’ one Sean had. I had an idea where I wanted to go; I wanted to work in Formula 1. However, I didn’t have many plans or ideas for anything else. 

The years passed as I lived a life of instant gratification. My ‘buy now pay later’ mentality fuelled by a life of living in the moment and not really caring about the future. It was only when I moved to Norway, some 15 years later, I sat down and thought, “Shit I really need to sort this out”. I had racked up a mountain of debt and was becoming fed up with the restrictions that came with it. I reflected that perhaps Sean had been onto something after all.

I sat down and calculated my budget and worked out how many months it would be to pay off everything. The credit cards, car loan, loans from family members and so on. “Life is so much more than just money, but what else did I want though? If this is the direction I am heading, what would I like to see along the way?” I pondered. 

As I expanded my thinking from finiances into other areas – fitness, housing, vehicles etc. I found myself l visualising Ben, five years in the future. Where was he? What was he doing? How did he look? What did he wear? What were his priorities?

As I worked out the answers to these questions, like inputting a GPS coordinate into a sat nav system, I saw a new path to follow. A guided route stretched way ahead in front of me to a vision of my new better life. 

But the time frame seemed so long, 

“Five years of my life? Would it be worth it? But how long really is five years?”  I considered the reality of five years. “If our generation will live until we are 80-90, and I’m 35, I still have 45-55 years to go. If I sacrifice five years now to pay off the 15 years of fun I’ve just had and make the next 45-55 years of life better, it doesn’t seem so bad of a trade off after all?”. This was the motivation I needed.  

I made a spreadsheet for every part of my life. Finances, career plan, housing, vehicle options, savings, vacation plans, a short, medium and long term wish list. I set in as much detail as I could and planned everything I could think of. Much like a mountaineer setting off to climb a difficult path, I had a map of where to go, what obstacles to look out for and what milestones to celebrate along the way. 

As I write this post I’m coming to the end of the 5 year period and here is what I have learned on my journey. 

At Peace

I found in my past I was always rushing to get to where I wanted to go. Now, I understand with careful planning it’s going to take it’s own time to get there. Like running a marathon, I can sit back, relax and settle into a good pace. Life is less stressful when you are not sprinting from one thing to the next. 

Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” discusses how successful entrepreneurs look back on the times starting out, hustling their way to achieve year upon year as the best times in the company. When they have made it and start to follow their ‘What’, rather than their ‘Why’, the focus is lost and the enjoyment decreases too. 

Therefore, why not relax and enjoy those early days longer? When you chase a dream the story is over when you accomplish it, right? 

Delayed Gratification

I had/have a financial plan in place enabling me to live an extraordinary life in the future. For example, I don’t have a fancy car now, on a loan, I have a regular VW Golf and I’m saving money each month for my ‘dream car’ later. The temptation of instant gratification now, is overcome by the thought or dream of what will come later. But it is not easy. Swimming against the flow of a society pushing you down river into debt is hard. What I found to ease my mind was actually the improvement to me, my character.

The ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’ by W Mischel, E B Ebbesen, A R Zeiss, studied how children reacted to a simple challenge. A single marshmallow now, or two later. The study, in which some modern day versions have some very amusing YouTube videos, showed some very interesting results—albeit with some counter arguments and studies weakening the original theory such as the work completed by Watts, Duncan and Quen

The team in the original study, followed the children for the next 40 years of their lives.  The results showed the children who had waited and had the ‘delayed gratification’ of two marshmallows were more successful, achieved higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, less divorce, lower obesity levels etc. 
Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D, wrote in Psychology today, “Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster….People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances”


The final thing I noticed when I planned ahead in my life was the increased motivation to get things done. Much like Edwin Locke’s ‘Goal-Setting Theory’. A technique used by management companies all over the world, encouraging specific, challenging, and time defined goals as a key for success. By planning, I became super-productive and super-motivated.

But a word of caution. It is easy to write almost anything down on a ‘5 Year Plan’ and ‘hope’ it just happens. One could write ‘to be a millionaire’, but this may lead to more stress and depression if you are simply not able to or not lucky enough to achieve it. 

My advice, taken from the book ‘Start with Why’, is to begin with defining your ‘Why’ first. Why do you want to be in that position? Why do you want to move there? Why do you want that vehicle?

Having a clear understanding of ‘why’ is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury. When times go bad or temptation comes along to veer off your path, remembering your ‘why’ helps you steer a true course forwards. 

I was fed up with being trapped by the restrictions of being in debt. My ‘why’ is freedom.

This ‘5 Year Plan’ for your life concept isn’t new. This isn’t an original thought from me. There are even ‘wikihow’ pages on how to do it. People will advise you on Youtube how to use a picture board to show the things you desire. Whereas others will say write everything down and place it in a special jar. I made a spreadsheet. 

How do you create the plan? Well, it’s up to you. But you’ve already taken the first step, so good luck!

“Slow and steady wins the race”, right? The benefits of a 5 year plan have shown me you can gain more control of your life, reduce the chaos and improve your own character in doing so. 

So why not try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Ben Stalsberg

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved,preference%20for%20a%20later%20reward.


Ben Asks: Do you need to get debt free?

Money, it makes the world go round, but for the vast majority of us, we learn how to handle finances through trial and error—mistakes that can be super costly and affect our mental attitudes, relationships and future life plans.

By far the biggest change in my life has been my attitude towards money. I wasn’t given any real money advice by my parents. Neither was it on the curriculum in school or at university. Like most people, I had to figure it all out by myself. 

I distinctly remember the time it all went wrong. Aged 18, a friend in Canada and the words “just get a credit card, book the flights and pay it off later . . .”

I hadn’t been taught how to control my money, so I didn’t really stand a chance of becoming financially savvy when my parents, the banks, the car people, the house people etc. all wanted me to buy stuff now and pay for it all later. It was as standard and normal as an A4 piece of paper. 

The hardest realisation though, was the company I worked for, the people who paid me, dressed me and put food on the table each night actively, wanted me to have less, so that they could actually make more. 

When I realised that, I wanted, for want of a better expression, to stop the corporate bus and get off. In that singular moment, I knew the system was wrong. “Welcome to the real world, son” might be the reality, but that wasn’t a world I could live inside without some level of control, even if that is just something I’m telling myself.

What is the root cause of the problem?

Ask yourself the question – If you lost your job today, how many days can you live before you NEED money?, a website dedicated to financial topics, estimated in 2019 around 69% of Americans had less than $1000 saved away in a bank account.

The BBC reported that in the UK, “A survey by the Money Advice Service has found that four in 10 adults…do not have £500 or more in savings. Another by ING bank suggests 28% of UK adults have nothing at all in the bank.”

And the Independent states that “More than quarter of UK households have no emergency savings…”

How did we end up in a situation where it’s common for all of us to live on the edge of financial disaster?

I have come to understand the game we are playing. It’s a game where we live in a world where everybody wants to make money. Simple, right? But this becomes quite tricky when we start to look at the companies and financial institutions closest to us. 

At work, unions have been demolished, equal pay is a touchy subject and satisfying the shareholder is now a priority subject for every CEO.

It is clear, the less we earn, the more we seem to borrow and the more the banks will make. Is this the darker side of capitalism?

The documentary ‘Saving Capitalism’ featuring Robert B. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor to then Clinton administration, paints a very vivid picture of the situation. “The simultaneous rise of both the working poor and non-working rich offers further evidence that earnings no longer correlate with effort.”

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

It is recommended from articles such as ‘’ amongst others, that by the time you are 35, you should have twice your salary saved away. 35!? I ask: why the topic of personal finances was not firmly placed between Maths and PE on a Tuesday morning with Mrs Smith? 

As you can see, the harsh reality is that nobody is out there fighting for you to look after or  make more money – therefore you really have to do this stuff yourself.

When booking those flights to Canada, I didn’t realise then, how that one decision I was about to make, would be so disastrous for the next fifteen years of my life. 

Young and on reflection, not so clever, I got the credit card and had a wild time for two weeks; skiing, driving around in a Mk1 Golf convertible, playing board games and drinking a few too many lemonades.  

Upon my return, I was greeted by the mountain of debt I’d racked up… Of course I had neither the money, nor the discipline to pay the credit card off at once. I set it to pay off the minimum monthly balance, high on memories of my Great Canadian Adventure. The years passed by, loans and credit cards were a staple of my financial diet and the initial £1500 holiday cost closer to £2,900 once compound interest was taken into account.  It didn’t stop there. Over the years, thousands of pounds of hard-earned money, washing away in a blur of social situations, material possessions and long-forgotten drunken memories. It’s harder when there’s nothing to show for it all, eh?  

Fast forward ten years to Ben, aged 28 and I found myself sitting in a room with a group of people being trained to sail around the world. There was a girl around my age; cute, blonde, Norwegian, who looked at me in a way that buckled my knees forever. Another guy, also around my age, was as smart as they come with a niceness factor through the roof. At that time I could only afford to pay to sail halfway around the world. But  these two people, around the same age as me were doing the WHOLE thing. I thought if they are doing it all, why can’t I? 

I sat in the back of the class, I opened up my bank’s website and I applied for a £30,000 loan for the balance of the rest of the journey. Within an hour it was approved and within a day I had the funds sitting in my account. It was that easy. It was so easy in fact it was scary.

Returning to land a year later from the race, with around £30,000 loan, around £7000 in credit cards and £3000 loan from my parents. No job, no assets, no nothing. I knew it was time to make a change. A sickening feeling arose, I was now a slave to that debt. Shackles are something very few of us would choose to wear. Yet this is what we do mentally when we are indebted. We are shackled to the whims of an economy that is not designed to work in our favour. Freedom felt a long way off. 

The interesting thing about the people I met on the race was how savvy everyone seemed to be with money. They all ‘knew’ the money game and they all thought I was completely crazy in my approach to life on credit—I think ‘delinquent’ is the official phrase. Upon asking my close friends for advice to get out of this situation, one friend, Ryan, said he could help me. Looking back, he changed my life in a way bigger than I ever thought was possible,  recommending a book which altered my view on the financial world forever. 

The book was Dave Ramsey’s ‘Total Money Makeover’.

The book discusses a foolproof plan to become debt-free. You first save a small emergency fund, so that you can cut up all your credit cards and not worry about needing them. Then you pay off all your debts, excluding the mortgage. Boost your emergency fund to 3-6 months, then start to do things for the future. 

I was so passionate about doing this that I jumped in head first and dragged my wife along with me. I distinctly remember sitting in a hotel in Stavanger reading the page on cutting up credit cards and I went for it. I asked the receptionist to borrow a pair of scissors and cut up my credit cards there and then. It was terrifying and freeing all at the same time. Like jumping out of a plane, I didn’t really know where I was heading and how this was going to turn out, but I knew it was exciting! I carried one piece of credit card in my wallet until recently as a constant reminder of the days gone by. 

Becoming debt-free and being like the people on the boat was my whole focus in life. I wanted to be as carefree as they were. If they lost their jobs, it wasn’t stressful. Some of them were there just taking a year off anyway, just for fun. Most could live for months on the same lifestyle without needing to go to the banks for a loan. They were making money each day by just having money stashed away in various accounts, funds and portfolios. “What was this wizardry?” I thought.  

Well the truth is, it’s no more magic than driving a car, riding a bike or making a delicious chocolate cake. It’s just learning what to do and having the discipline to do it right.  

You set up a Plan, Do, Check, Action Process, as we talked about in a previous blog here. And you just get to work. 

It took me over three years to become debt-free and five years to be in the position that I’m in now. I have no debts apart from the mortgage, I have a 6 month emergency fund saved away and when I get my paycheck, 15% of it goes straight towards my retirement. If everything stayed the same, although I’m working to shorten the time of course…I should be a millionaire by the time I retire.

I’m not going to sit here and say it was, and is, easy though. You have to actively turn your back on a “normal” life and walk your own road. It takes months to pay off credit cards and years to pay off the cars. In all this time, you have to say “no” to anything fancy or fun. There are times when you stare at yourself in the mirror, wearing the same T-shirt you’ve owned for 8 years and think, what am I doing? I’m in the prime of my life, living on less money than when I was a student. ‘Buy now, pay later’ indeed.

You see all your mates, in fancy cars, having fun and going on holiday and you are sat, inside, watching the TV again. Of course, you wonder if they’ve been more money-savvy or if that enjoyment comes at a price they’ll pay later.

Debt repayment is  a long, hard, boring game and one in which you know will only take as long as the discipline you put in. One night out, means £50 less to pay off the car, which may push you into another month of debt-free mission living. There was a reason our grandparents called it ‘The never-never’. 

But it’s not forever. And it isn’t ALL doom-and-gloom. Funnily enough, this road looks more like the roads our grandparents would walk. Valuing shared neighbourly socials where everyone brings a bit, rather than flamboyant stag dos in random European cities. We’re all living well beyond our means, encouraged by colourful marketing campaigns. This new path shuns much of that stuff, seeing it for what it really is. 

Sometimes getting out of debt is a case of finding another tribe. One where symbols of status and wealth are not the priority. But just like the water principle, you have to input energy to dramatically change your ways. Then, after the transformation happens, you can walk a new path to a much better future than before.

To end, I want to leave you with a final thought, who is richer?

Person A and Person B earn the same money. Person A, has no savings, drives a Porsche on a loan, has a vacation home on a mortgage, dresses in designer clothes, eats out regularly and takes nice vacations all on credit cards. The disposable income after all the expenses and interest payments is around £30 each month.

Person B, saves £300 each month, drives a Volkswagen Golf, rents a vacation home for a week at a time, pays cash, dresses sensibly, eats out rarely but still takes nice vacations. All paid on cash not credit. The disposable income of this person is around £1000 each month. 

If both people lost their jobs, had their houses flooded, or had an accident in the family which needed large hospital bills. Who is the wealthier person and how much chaos would each person have in their lives if something went wrong?

You should never judge a book by its cover and no situation is more true than that with money. 

Ben Stalsberg

Find Dave Ramsey’s book here!,%C2%A36%2C000%20and%20%C2%A39%2C000.

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: Do you need help?

Does your work seem a bit pointless, there’s not enough money to do all the things you want to do and there’s never enough time in the week to get it all done? Are you sitting, wondering, why isn’t this easy anymore?!

The master plan was laid out by our parents; get a job, get a partner, buy a house, take a loan, work, pay bills, have kids and then live a happy life, right? But now, for whatever reason, you’ve sat down, stared at your screens, amid the complete disorder and confusion, and thought, **** what now? Why is the plan not working? Set off down the river of life with a map of where to go, but you’ve just ended up totally lost.

I get it, I’ve been there, and first up, it’s NOT your fault. We were just the unlucky ones that were told we could have the world (if we worked hard enough?), but ended up just like Oliver Twist asking “Please Sir, can I have some more?”.  

The most important action point  is to STOP. Now. Before you go too far. Stop  figure it all out before it gets too late. For me, it led me down a one-way path to the doctors office, getting signed off for stress and depression, and I don’t want that happening to you!

So I ask, do you want to be free? Do you wanna do what you wanna do? Do you want to say those immortal words at the start of the song “Loaded” by Primal Scream and hear those trumpets blaring as you succeed at life? 

I’m here to help you. Having figured out a journey for myself to get off this path (and onto a happier, healthier one) the hard way, I’d like to share my findings to make it easier for you, to accelerate your journey. I’m going to show you how to ENGINEER YOUR LIFE FOR SUCCESS. 

What does that mean though? Well, sometimes life can be a bit grey and sometimes we need  to try and make things a little more black and white. Engineering, in the way it uses facts, figures, statistics etc. is very much a black and white world. We can logically look at life’s problems and try to use logical methods, data analysis, engineering management techniques, that have already been proven over hundreds of years, in manufacturing facilities from all over the world, to try to make life less pointless, easier and happier.

So what is the root cause of the problem? 

The second law of Thermodynamics states that all order will descend into chaos over a given period of time. 

Thermodynamics, is a fancy word for the relationship between heat and other forms of energy, and there are three “laws”, each describing something that we have observed as engineers or scientists, which can explain why certain things happen. 

To describe the 2nd law, imagine you have two rooms, one full of hot air and another filled with cold. When you open the door, the hot air tries to lose its energy by moving to the cold room. As the hot air starts to mix with the cold air, there is no longer order in the system.

The two separate, ordered, elements begin to mix. Just like pouring milk in your tea or coffee in the morning and watching the white fluid, combine with the black. 

It takes some time to fully combine into the brown end result and once you have poured that first drop of milk, there is no going back. You have taken two organised items and combined them. In this combination, you have created chaos. Sometimes, as in the case of a nice cup of coffee , this works out quite well indeed. Often, however, particularly in the case of life, it doesn’t.

The measure of how much chaos the system has is called “Entropy”, a word, which is now not only used in science, to describe the amount of chaos, or disorder in a system. It is also used in jewellery, economics, business workplaces, etc. The higher the entropy, the more chaos there is. The lower the number, the more stable the situation. 

When the two rooms have equalised or the milk is fully stirred into the coffee. This is when chaos is at its highest and the entropy is also at its highest value. To try to separate those two items again back to their original states would be almost impossible and if the system is closed, where no external factors can affect the situation, it is deemed to be simply irreversible. 

The only way to achieve zero chaos, or to have the entropy with a zero value, is to have an absolute zero temperature. Nothing moves. Therefore, if nothing is moving, nothing can combine with anything, no chaos can occur.

But that’s not living is it? If we never moved, then we’d just be existing. So, we have to move and when we move, we create chaos The more we do, the busier we get, then the more chaos we add in. This is happening to everyone. Therefore when we are in a workplace for example, or a store or a school, with multiple people, all creating chaos, we really need to be on top of our game. Otherwise, before you know it, you feel overwhelmed, and all the plates you have spinning fall to the ground.

A few years back, my plates crashed to the floor pretty dramatically. It’s not common as a guy to admit these things. As I sat in a psychologist’s office, crying into my sleeve, snot running out my nose, a victim of my own chaos, I looked at the physician in desperation.  “Go and find out who you really are” was her only advice. She was convinced that, with this information, I would be able to figure out how to fix the problematic situation that I was in. 

At first, I was stunned. Go and what? I was sitting there, pouring my heart out to this person and what I really wanted was for a step to step guide of how to fix myself. What was I paying her for?! But as I contemplated her advice, I realised the answer was actually right in front of me. 

Never did I think that the only way to get me out of the situation was looking at the one thing I had been doing for my whole life. ENGINEERING. 

I embarked on a plan to Engineer my Life.  

When I started to analyse my life as if I was at work, my progress was  incredible. I could organise, simplify and execute in a smarter, faster, more elegant way, with more productivity than ever before. I found simple theories embedded in the heart of engineering, and turned them around and pointed them squarely at my situation. I lost my fear, I challenged my workplace, I had more money, I had more free time. I was less stressed, healthier, stronger, happier than ever before.  Like a shipwreck being brought up from the ocean bed, or an old banger restored to its former glory, I came back and went beyond where I originally was. 

The key to all this extraordinary amount of personal growth was to invest time into making my life, money, work and health, more efficient. I planned everything from my time used throughout the day to how much money I was spending on a five month ahead basis. 

I started to work smarter, not harder and the results were seen immediately. I stood back, climbed up the mountain and looked down on my life from a far and saw my new path ahead was far better than the muddy swamp I’d been trailing in before.

So why is this story pertinent to you?

Looking around my friendship group, I realise I’m not the only one getting to my mid-to-late thirties and wondering if I took a wrong turn, asking why I didn’t appear to have the coping skills needed to deal healthily with life’s dealt disappointments early on so they didn’t grow into disasters. On the other side of what can only be described as a pretty traumatic struggle, I know I would have learned faster if I’d had a mentor, just as in business, to guide me through the emotional gauntlet of life. 

I want to explain the theories to you, so that you can gain some control in this world full of chaos. Just the same as people’s preference of how much milk is good for their taste of a milky coffee, there is a limit of how much chaos is acceptable for people’s lives. To control the chaos, to limit the amount to our own personal level, we need to input energy by means of control measures.  

As we look at our own lives and the chaos life creates–both day-to-day and longer term–, then it helps to start thinking in terms of chaos and Entropy. If we know and accept that chaos will occur in life, it is written in the law, our aim should be to try and aim for the lowest Entropy value possible. We can’t always control external forces, that’s just how the game works, but by ensuring the value is low in what we can control, external forces only push the value up slightly, rather than dramatically.

We need more order in our lives, according to Erwin Schrödinger. In his 1944 Book, “What is Life”, he stated we need to have more Negentropy. Schrödinger, described Negentrohpy as “negative entropy” and states that as an organism, we crave order What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy.” 

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, from the Bioelectrodynamics Laboratory, Open University, U.K,  explains this as 

Schrödinger uses it to identify the remarkable ability of the living system, not only to avoid the effects of entropy production – as dictated by the second law – but to do just the opposite, to increase organization, which intuitively, seems like the converse of entropy.”

Therefore, to create more order from the chaos that we live in, I want to show you tried and tested techniques from Engineering.  Methodologies that control the chaos in production facilities for example, and explain how you could use them in your life. 

I want to show you how you too could analyse your life and make it better with Lean Engineering, the PDCA Cycle, or Plan, Do, Check, Action. I want to show you how you could use the 5S principle to get organised. Or how  water–the source of life–demonstrates  why it’s so hard to change our actions to get onto a more progressive path. I want you to understand that maybe your boss is a victim of the Peter Principle, your company doesn’t love you and why you need emotional distance to obtain equality. I want to show you how you could organise your money, so you will have safety and security, bringing less stress.

Together we can engineer your life, wellbeing, money and work for a happier, healthier, more prosperous and successful way of life.

Every Friday evening I’ll be posting. All you need to do is subscribe to be alerted when there’s a new post. 

Now, go listen to Primal Scream and get fired up. We’re going on a journey and we’re going to get loaded on life! We’re going to have a party!  


Ben Stalsberg

While waiting for the next blog, consider the phrase ‘Go and find out who you really are’. How would you react to this statement? Who is the real you? What steps do you think you need to take for that discovery?

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved