Clarity and Planning

What’s the point of planning? The point of planning is ultimately to help you create a result, so planning is a means to an end. And some other purposes of planning are to reduce risk and increase efficiency. You create plans in order to achieve your goal with less effort and less risk.

Now a good plan requires making predictions. If you take these particular actions in this particular order, you’ll get this particular result. In fact, a plan is really a collection of predictions. Another word for prediction is expectation, so we can also say that your plan depends on your expectations and especially on the accuracy of your expectations.

Now the usefulness of a plan largely depends on its predictability. If you follow the plan, will you achieve the desired results?

The more predictable the actions and results are, the more useful a detailed plan is likely to be. But if your predictions are inaccurate, your plan may not be very useful and could even be counter-productive.

Let’s consider some situations where a detailed plan may not actually be too helpful. These are situations where your predictions are likely to be inaccurate.

First there are your predictions or expectations about the world. Next, we have your predictions or expectations about yourself. And finally there are your predictions or expectations about your relationship with the world. To make a good plan, you need decent accuracy in all three of these areas.

Planning and the World

Within the slice of reality that’s relevant to your plan, is the world – the external situation – stable enough for you to make good predictions regarding the results of your intended actions? This doesn’t mean that the entire world has to remain still. And you don’t have to have total certainty about every possibility. There’s always going to be some risk and some chance of being surprised by unexpected events. But for good plans to be possible, you need some degree of stability, such that the cause-and-effect relationship of your actions and results will remain reasonably stable.

During the first five years that I ran my computer games business, I worked with other publishers. My company’s job was to develop the games, and the publishers’ job was to publish them. I ran into a lot of trouble with this approach because I couldn’t control nor predict with sufficient accuracy what was happening inside these publishers. Their instability led to my team’s projects getting canceled. Eventually I ended up going bankrupt with this approach. I created what initially seemed like great plans for what I wanted to do, but my predictions and expectations regarding the other businesses I worked with were ridiculously inaccurate, and I paid the price. My plans during this time were largely useless. I couldn’t execute them because they were based on erroneous expectations. To the extent that I followed my plans, my risk actually increased, because this led me to invest more resources in an unstable situation. It’s like increasing your investment in a falling stock because your plan says the stock is supposed to rise.

After that, however, I changed my business model. I stopped working with external publishers and shifted to selling games direct over the Internet. Now I could make reasonable plans and execute them because this model was based on more reliable predictions. I didn’t have to worry about understanding the inner workings of any one publisher. After I switched to this model, the business finally became profitable, and generating stable and increasing cash flow became much easier. My plans worked because they weren’t built upon inaccurate assumptions of honesty or stability at some other company. They were built upon more stable and reliable expectations such as continued player demand for certain types of games, people’s willingness to buy downloadable games online, and more newcomers signing up for Internet service.

Planning and You

Next there are the predictions and expectations that you have about yourself. This may seem like the easiest area to predict because all you have to do is control yourself. But it’s often not as easy as it looks.

Have you ever made plans that required you to perform actions that should have fairly predictable outcomes, but you didn’t follow through? Did you ever fail to do what you intended to do, even though you’re pretty sure it would have worked out well if you’d only taken action?

We all succumb to that trap at times. Sometimes we procrastinate. Sometimes we get lazy. Sometimes we feel unexpected resistance to a task and give in to those feelings. It happens. So if we’re going to plan effectively, we also need to get better at predicting when we’ll actually follow through and when we won’t.

I’ve learned that if I set certain types of goals and turn them into plans, I usually won’t follow through. If I try to do something that’s just for the money, and I’m not feeling any other motivation to do it, I usually won’t do it – even when I logically predict that I’d make good money if I just took the necessary actions. I’ll find ways to procrastinate. And even if I can get myself to do it, I won’t do my best, and I won’t feel good about it afterwards. Consequently, I’ve had to update my personal behavioral predictions over time to account for this.

I’ve also learned that if my motivation is rooted in playfulness, fun, connection, or just having some interesting new growth experiences, it’s much more predictable that I’ll follow through with action. If an action feels like a playful or interesting challenge to me, I’ll probably do it, and then of course I’ll get the results of that action too.

So this bit of self-knowledge becomes part of my calculus for making plans and taking action. And I encourage you to make this part of your thought process too. If you repeatedly observe that you fail to reliably execute certain types of plans, stop making similar plans. They’ll probably turn out poorly because you’re building them upon unreliable expectations.

Planning and Your Relationship with the World

The third area to consider is your relationship with the world. How stable is that relationship? The more stable it is, the better your plans are likely to be.

What do we mean by the relationship between you and the world? I sometimes think of this relationship as my overall vibe. Some people prefer to think of it as their attitude. And others would see this as their beliefs about the world. Use whatever label you prefer. If you like thinking in terms of your vibe, your vibration, your energy signature – if you’re comfortable with those labels, great; use them. If you prefer to think in terms of your attitude, beliefs, and feelings towards the world – also great.

How stable is this relationship? Do you have a fairly consistent vibe or attitude right now? Or are you bouncing around a lot? Are you positive and happy one day and dreadfully depressed another day? If your attitude keeps fluctuating, it will be hard to make reliable plans. For planning to be effective, you need a fairly predictable relationship with life, with the world, and with the universe as a whole. You need a reasonably stable vibe or attitude to make good progress with a plan. Otherwise if your vibe or attitude keeps bouncing around, you’ll probably question your plan, the actions you’re supposed to take, and even the goal that the plan is supposed to achieve. A fluctuating vibe is a recipe for inconsistency. This tends to be the case even if you can predict when those fluctuations are likely to occur.

Planning and Stability

This isn’t to say that planning is bad. It’s just that good planning requires a good bit of stability – stability in yourself, stability in the relevant parts of the world, and stability in your relationship with the world (with your vibe or attitude). If any one of these areas lacks stability and predictability, your plans are likely to have issues, and you probably won’t get very good results when you try to execute your plans. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t still experience clarity, but it does suggest that advance planning may not be your best tool for doing so.

What can make matters worse is when you fail to execute an ill-conceived plan – a plan that was probably doomed to failure before you even began – and then this failure to execute creates even more unpredictability. For instance, if you begin with a very positive attitude, but your plans aren’t working, and then you start succumbing to a negative attitude because of that, now you’re just heading for a downward spiral where your plan is even more doomed.

There are times where planning works well, which is when you have high predictability such that your expectations will likely be met. Suppose you follow a recipe to make dinner. That will probably turn out well if you have access to a stable kitchen, if you can expect yourself to follow the recipe (like if you have sufficient cooking skills to do so), and if you have a decent attitude towards cooking. That’s a pretty simple situation, but it checks off the stability requirements for a plan to work.

Planning is one tool among many. It tends to work well in highly predictable situations, but it can be rendered useless or counterproductive by unpredictable situations.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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