Be Ready for Anything: The Art of Planning

Last month, we discussed the importance of being able to act even in the face of negativity. Regardless of what is happening around you and the distractions that are present, the goal is to continue to push forward toward your destination.

The emphasis last month was more guided toward in-the-moment responses, but can you create a plan of attack of how to handle potential obstacles? The answer is yes. Having preplanned actions for potential obstacles can prepare you to stay the course when the unexpected happens.

Pre-Planning versus Winging It

“We’ll figure it out when we get there,” is a common phrase associated with spontaneity. While being spontaneous can add excitement to one’s life and be effective at times, winging it can also increase the likelihood of making mistakes. Can we plan for everything we are going to experience? No, but having preplanned responses to potential obstacles can be the difference in staying the course or getting off track.

Think about all the planning that you do: vacations, meetings, exercise. Why do you plan? Why do you take the time and effort to plan for something that has not happened? There are many reasons why we should make a deliberate effort to plan for potential obstacles, including: increasing our preparation, minimizing stress or anxiety, maintaining steady energy levels.

Oftentimes, when faced with obstacles or the unexpected, our energy levels increase and our fight-or-flight response kicks in. Too much of an increase in energy activation can shut down our thinking brain and our ability to function at an optimal level. Therefore, planning can help us manage our energy levels more efficiently so that we can make more effective decisions in the moment.

For example, for my 30th birthday I went skydiving. I have a fear of heights, and I knew that I was going to experience a lot of anxiety before I jumped. For days and weeks leading up to this day, I planned out how I would respond. I would take several deep breaths and tell myself, “Enjoy this experience,” so that when the day would come, I would be prepared define my anxiety and go through with jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.


Implementing Intentions

When you have time to plan, an effective strategy comes in the form of when-then statements. When-then statements are a type of contingency planning for identifying specific action to take when faced with an obstacle. Research shows that planning how you will act, particularly in the face of obstacles, has been found to be very effective for ensuring goal progress and reaching your destination. I recently started the process of training for a 10k run. I follow a training program three times a week using the treadmill at the gym to run a specific number of miles. Let’s say I show up to the gym one day, and the gym is closed. A when-then statement would look like, “When the gym is closed, then I will run outside,” or “When the gym is closed, then I will focus on stretching and recovery.” While you cannot prepare for every obstacle and challenge, having an idea of how you will act to particular roadblocks can help you stay on track.

You can also incorporate power statements that we discussed previously. Power statements help increase confidence toward execution of a task by having ready-made statements that are purposeful, productive and possible. Power statements fit into the planning process by identifying particular moments when you might need a boost of confidence for motivation. One statement I say to myself while I am training for my 10k is, “One more minute.” I had never run for more than two miles at a time until recently, so my patience is tested when I run for longer periods of time. Therefore, I need that extra boost of confidence and motivation to help me see this and my power statement helps me stay on track.


Parting Words

One phrase that holds true more often than not is, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Nothing ever goes according to plan, so you must develop contingency plans to ensure progress toward your end destination. While you cannot plan for everything, brainstorm typical roadblocks you may expect so that you can better prepare for when that moment presents itself. Create contingency plans, create power statements and utilize these skills in order to handle the obstacles that you will face.