“Planning is everything; The plan is nothing“. That’s a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower, but what to make of it?
Once we have a clear goal we can devise a plan. By anticipating the future and crystalizing action-steps we imagine a path that can lead us to our goal. Next we start executing. Once our actions meet the real world, something amazing happens: Learning! (actually we might not always enjoy this step
Most likely our plan isn’t going to work out as we initially thought it would! If so we have to realise that: The plan is nothing. We have to be flexible enough to abandon our old plan and make a new plan, incorporating the lessons we’ve learned so far (parts of our initial plan will likely still remain valid).
So this impact habit actually hast two parts:
1) Understanding that planning is crucial and making a habit out of it. Using our amazing brain to devise a plan to get to our destination gives us clarity and inspiration to take action. We anticipate things that might happen and find the most effective, efficient route to our destination. Pen and Paper are great, very tangible medium for “getting our ideas out”. To think beforehand about the best way to go gives us a big advantage. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.
2) To let our initial plan go once the time has come. What actually matters is not the plan we devised and which we might now have become attached to. It is that we are consistently progressing towards our destination. The plan is just a tool that helps us to get there and we have to remind ourselves that there are many, many ways. What matters is that we keep our focus on the goal. It’s easy to get attached to our plans because we think: “I have this amazing plan. It’s going to take me to my goal in a straight line! I really want to execute this plan”. Then by “investing” in our plan (following it up with action) we might develop attachment. This can be compared to someone playing at the casino or investing in a stock. In our minds we might confuse the plan with the goal. So if the real world tells us: “Nope. You’ve got to learn, change your approach and be flexible!”, then we have got to listen and adapt. This can be painful, but often it’s a necessary “wake-up call”.
One example from my own life: I’m very passionate about increasing my productivity, using my time effectively and delivering the most possible value to others. My initial plan for doing that was: I’m just going to minimize sleep so that I can maximize my days. I had been doing this for years now!
Over the last few months I finally realised that when I sleep too little and don’t take deliberate time to rest and recover, if I don’t get deep sleep to rejuvenate my mind and body, then I am headed for bad performance and disease. True, it was my plan, but I realised that it doesn’t lead me to my destination. Even if I pushed myself, if I exercised and motivated myself strongly, there was a kind of “brain fog” that clouded my mind and I just couldn’t perform at my best. So right now I am executing an alternative plan: I’m prioritizing sleep over sheer work-hours. I am learning how I can optimize my sleep, how I can get more deep sleep and also learning about the many far-reaching effects of sleep on health: hormones, digestion, mental performance but also interactions with aging and many potential diseases. I decided that I want to properly support my body so that I can perform at my best each day — even if that means sleeping more. My paradigm shifted from: “Sleep? I’ve got to do it… Let’s minimize it so that I can maximize my work…” to: “If I have a great sleep quality then I’m going to have great work and life quality!”This was a huge shift for me. It was very difficult for me to step back from my initial plan. To finally admit to myself that it wasn’t working. I always tried to go back with my initial plan (and I can still feel the urge and old habits keep resurfacing), even if I was falling asleep many times during the day and my performance was suffering from lack of sleep. I needed a new plan. It’s like Eisenhower says: “The plan is nothing”. The plan doesn’t matter once it has expired. It’s not about the plan. It’s about getting to our destination. This is what I have to remind myself of regularly — the destination and the vision I have.
It is crucial to realize the value of planning. We have an amazing mind, more complex and powerful than any computer we have been able to build. It takes energy and effort to use it and to plan ahead — but it’s absolutely worth it! Planning strengthens our motivation, gives us clarity and it helps us with taking specific, calibrated actions. Even if it doesn’t take us to our goal in a straight line — we now have this great opportunity for learning. We go, step-by-step, until we reach our desired goal.
This is a really simple lesson, but it is a very profound one. Think about it!
I encourage you, especially if you usually don’t make plans, to give it a go: Choose 1 goal that you currently have and, on a sheet of paper, ask yourself the following questions:
- What exactly do I want to achieve? (try to be very specific)
- Why do I want to achieve it? What are my deep motivations?
- Why have I not achieved it already? What’s been holding me back? (be honest, this is valuable feedback so you don’t repeat a strategy that has already failed in the past. Anthony Robbins also likes asking this question.)
- How can I go about making it a reality? Write a general plan of how to do it. A rough strategy, no too many details.
Now if you feel motivated to keep going:
- Write down 3 small, specific actions you are committed to taking within a week for making tangible progress towards your goal. These should be about a maximum of 10 minutes long and specific, doable and simple! Be realistic! It’s better to make it small AND get it done than big but only on paper. This is for building momentum.
If you want you can publicly commit to your goal in the comments section. Accountability is a very powerful tool for self-motivation! i’ll definitely be cheering you on!