Confused of a Confused Millennial: Stop Planning
Over the past several years I have nurtured a potentially dangerous, but nevertheless productive tendency to plan literally everything. From paramount life decisions such as where to go to college or where to live, to miniscule decisions about what to have for dinner or what to wear on the weekend-I am undoubtably a classic over thinker.
Regardless of the connotation associated with being a classic over thinker, I will freely admit that I find comfort in one common characteristics of my personality type, namely planning. Because as I cling tightly to clearly defined road map towards achieving my goals, planning gives me the false illusion that I am somehow in control of certain areas of life. And planning even helps me re-center my intentions and find motivation to press on when the going gets hard. So planning is good, right?
Now perhaps according to our increasingly corporate world centered around maximizing productivity, accomplishment, income, etc., the answer to my simple question is yes. I mean the mere fact that one of the top business and self-help topics revolve around planning of some sort should be support enough. And not to mention that to this day we revisit old and new studies alike that demonstrate the power of planning. For example, I am sure most of us have been taught about one of the most classic studies conducted at a Harvard business school which discovered that the reason why 3% of Harvard MBAs later made ten times as much as the other 97% of their class combined was because you guessed it, that 3% had clear, written goals and plan to accomplish those business goals.
I could go on all day about our societal obsession with planning, but that would negate the purpose of this post: specifically to argue that planning and the control that results from said process is not as respectable as corporate American has led us to believe. Instead this post is intended to talk about the dark side to planning and control--a side that many people (including myself) find easy to ignore by embracing the sense of security that planning, predictability and control grant.
This post is intended to inspire an authentic conversation about the invisible line between balance and obsess that can often stripe planning of its glamour.
Because what happens when your mind wanders: when you become conditioned to obsess over your next task rather than the present one, or when you become too preoccupied with your to-do list to embrace the little things in life or to look up just long enough to observe a inconceivably vast world filled with millions of people and problems that desperately need of your attention--what happens then?
Should planning continue to be exalted or have we potentially let our ability to control and predict dominant, rather than supplement, our lives?
My subjective answer to these rhetorical questions is no; because of course, planning should never replace my ability to live an intentional and meaningful life. Conversely however, I am still gripping to my security blanket of control. Yet regardless of all of this, I am still convinced that there has to be a happy medium between obsessive control and raging unease in the midst of the unknown.
So, if you too are ready to find said happy medium while still continuing to strive towards your goals, here are five quick ways to embrace uncertainty rather than constantly trying to plan and control circumstances.
1.) Step back.
I have found that anxiety and my tendency to overthink everything often propels me into planning without ever taking time to step back to ask myself, “what is really going on/what emotions (if any) am I trying to run away from?” This step requires learning how to act counter intuitively in order practice mindfulness, self-reflection and prayer in the midst of chaotic life circumstances.
2.) View uncertainty as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Of course it is comforting to feel like we know how things are going to pan out, but the reality is that certainty about most things is impossible. So instead of focusing on the unchangeable, this step requires a shift towards a state of curiosity about the future and an openness to learn from the unpredictable.
3.) Look to the past.
Just as we often project our past failures onto the future, we can also reflect on our past hardships or periods of unpredictability to motivate us to stop worrying about the future. I am sure many of us have had times in our lives where we have thought, “I would have never thought this would turn out the way it did, but I’m happy it didn’t go as I planned.” To me this step seems particularly daunting because it requires faith in the future rather than present… But regardless, this step prevents my mind from constantly run damage control whenever I experience uncertainty or something doesn’t go as I plan.
4.) Learn how to channel emotions surrounding unpredictability in a positive way.
There are so many positive ways to cope with uncertainty and change (such as prayer or mindfulness as mentioned above), but there are also more context-specific activities that can also substitute obsessive planning. Some examples include: journaling, writing, reconnecting with new and old friends alike, etc. In the end, no matter how comforting planning can be, it is important for our mental health that we find healthier outlets to cling to when we feel uncertain about the present or future.
5.) Focus on the process (system) of achieving your goals, rather than the end product.
Planning helps solidify our goals and can allow us to visualize the achievement of those goals. Yet alas, despite the fact that our visualizations are often flawed, it's easy to become laser focused on end results while failing to acknowledge and embrace the process along the way. I am victim of this mind trap, and let me tell you it is scary.
I don’t want to wake up one day, (whether I accomplished my theoretical goals or not) only to realize that I spent the precious life God gave me on earth constantly running after a piece of cake without looking around to discover that everyone else was enjoying their piece of the cake not only in the moment, but with a stronger sense of meaning than myself. Side note: I wrote that far-fetched metaphor while eating a vanilla ice cream cone and now I want a piece of cake-why do I do this to myself?!