The saying “fail to prepare and prepare to fail” might conjure a few troublesome memories. There are certainly instances where failing to prepare will backfire, as some aspects of life require appropriate mental or physical investment ahead of time. When you’re planning because you know that a plan will help you navigate situations with ease and grace, it’s not such a bad thing.
However, it’s sometimes the case that we can over-prepare in life. Planning has its place, but discernment is required because at other times, planning too much can actually be more of a hindrance than a benefit. When deciding whether or not planning (or how much planning) is necessary, it is wise to consider why you feel the need to plan.
Certain things in life can’t really be planned for, and planning only serves to give you the illusion of control over events. If you’re honest with yourself, you might admit that you’re planning ahead due to fear of negative consequences. So the question is, to plan or not to plan?
There are undoubtedly instances when it would be foolish to try to wing it. It’s a good idea to plan ahead for anything with potentially serious detrimental consequences, situations when someone is depending on you, or endeavors that require you to have lots of things in place in order for you to succeed.
Let’s assume you’ve got important exams coming up that will shape your future permanently. When you’ve studied something recently, you might feel that the information has sunk in. When it’s fresh in your memory, it seems that way. Yet it’s hard to predict what you’ll recall on any given day in the future. Planning ahead by studying religiously according to a plan and over a predetermined time frame gives you the best chances of retaining the information.
Here are some similar instances in which it makes sense to plan ahead:
- Preparing for important meetings, speeches and presentations
- Planning to meet deadlines and appointments
- Planning your finances or budgets
- Planning for special occasions such as an anniversary, birthday party, or wedding
Health and fitness goals are worth planning for too. If you’re about to embark on a specific diet, sticking to that might be difficult unless you prepare meal plans and mealtimes for the duration. It doesn’t take much to slip up and end up eating a cream cheese bagel because you forgot to buy the right ingredients when you had the chance.
Athletes wouldn’t dream of slacking ahead of an event, and even your average gym goer needs to have a plan for how to get those abs in shape if it’s to happen any time this year. This may include anything from acquiring the appropriate fitness apparel to designing meal plans and plotting exercise sessions in your diary. Hiking a treacherous trail without a map, proper equipment and supplies, or an idea as to the weather forecast will be isn’t a great idea.
Let’s start by acknowledging that the more expectation you have about an outcome, the more likely you are to suffer disappointment. Although disappointments are normal and contain valuable lessons, sometimes it’s better to preempt those by keeping an open mind and trusting in your own ability to navigate challenges as they arise. Rigidity makes it tempting to ignore other good options, and sometimes life simply has contrary ideas whether you like it or not.
The general rule of thumb is that if the outcome you desire is entirely unpredictable, planning may be a total waste of effort at best. Here are some examples of when it’s probably pointless to plan:
We’ve all been in a situation where a tricky conversation is about to ensue. When you’ve got to navigate another person’s emotions, it’s tempting to want to preempt any uncomfortable lines of inquiry. The thing is, unless we know a person like that back of our hand, we never really know how they will react to what we say. There’s no harm in having an idea of the points you want to make, but that’s about as far ahead as it’s wise to plan.
There are no guarantees that you’ll even get to finish your point, or that it will be perceived as you hope. In this instance, it’s better to go with the flow of conversation and trust that you’ll find some common ground by listening when you should, and asserting when necessary.
Life mapping is a tempting one. When asked where you want to be five years from now, you may have ideas… and those ideas probably go hand in hand with high hopes. Ambition isn’t a bad thing, but inflexibility may be your downfall. Again, an outline isn’t a terrible idea, but a rigid plan can’t possibly account for the twists and turns life tends to throw at us over time… and stressing about things you can’t control is never a great idea.
The more attached to certain outcomes we are, the more likely we are to feel overwhelmingly disappointed when life doesn’t follow the path we envisaged. We’re also likely to overlook important opportunities while in the dogged pursuit of our lofty goals.
If traveling to a new destination, you might be keen to ensure you make the most of your trip. Following the beaten track could be appealing, but the reality is often a lukewarm experience. You might go through your Lonely Planet guide and create a list of activities and places, but when you’re there, one conversation with a seasoned traveler or local might send you off on an entirely different trajectory.
When on the road, it pays to be open-minded. The richest experiences can’t always be planned for, and big plans leave you at risk of becoming indecisive when faced with new options. Much of the joy of exploring lies in spontaneity, and if you remain open to new ideas, you might even find yourself in a totally different country (if you’ve got months at your disposal).
So to answer the question of whether you should plan or not, you’ll need to consider consequences, be honest about your motivations, and be as discerning as you can. Although you can only really answer this one yourself, perhaps the real question should be, “How much should I plan?”