We all have things we want in life, without knowing exactly how to get them. So we don’t even get started. People say “Make a plan! Then take baby steps! And you’ll get there.” Well that’s great, except if we don’t actually know how to get where we want to go. So in that case, we don’t make a plan… and often don’t get started.
But scientists have discovered something exciting! It turns out that plans are useful even if they don’t tell us exactly at to do. Plans aren’t just a roadmap from point A to point B; it turns out that they do way more.
Plans give confidence, motivation, and results even if we get their steps completely wrong. Which makes plans useful in far more places than you’d think. To be confident, motivated, and resultified, use plans — even imperfect plans — everywhere.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. He’s the only person whose newsletter and blog I read regularly. He turns research-based results about psychology into actions we can take. He taught me something important about plans: plans are how you get unstuck. Simply having a plan, whether it’s accurate or not, is enough to make us feel confident and get us moving. Our brains are scared of the unknown, so as with anything we fear, our brain does the whole “flight, ”fight,“ or ”freeze” thing. Making a plan gives our brains something to know. So they feel safe, just by having a plan, and are better able to get us what we want. That calms down our brain, so we can think clearly and actually figure out how to reach our goal for real.
Today’s tip is really simple: use plans to get yourself moving, even if you don’t know all the steps. Let’s look at a few places where we don’t usually think of plans as a tool, but where they’ll get you moving anyway thanks to the confidence effects.
Use plans for building a social life
If you’re a workaholic like myself, you may have trouble finding the time to catch up with friends and cultivate new social connections. You may become a hermit, and let your hair grow down to your knees, and start talking to small animals.
Then we start thinking things like, “I can’t call Ashley because it’s been so long and I won’t know what to say about why I haven’t called and it will be embarrassing and I’m a horrible person and I don’t know how to get started, and … Hi, Bunny!!!”
Our brain goes down these hare-brained paths because it doesn’t know what else to do. So tell it what to do. Make a plan! A plan will help us get un-stuck from our introverted, hermetic ways. And it doesn’t need to be a detailed plan.
Here’s a sample plan: Step 1. “Call Ashley.” Step 2. “Say ‘I am so sorry for abandoning you at the altar. Let’s be friends again and go bowling Thursday.’” Once you get on the phone, you may or may not stick to the plan, but just having a plan will get you moving.
My personal plan to build a social life is to buy a television set and start inviting people over for movie nights. It’s been the plan for a couple of years. Have I followed it? NO! But having the plan has chilled me out enough that I’ve been making friends in other places instead. Just having the plan got me moving.
Use plans for finding romance
They say that breaking up is hard to do. You know why? Because first, you have to find a shmoopie to break up with. That’s intimidating!! Sure, “there’s an app for that,” but the instructions are unclear. My friend (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) was so excited to download the app that they got confused and spent an hour swiping the wrong way for every person in a 50 mile radius of my house. I mean, their house. So now they have to idea how to find love, and are resigned to living a life of lonely videogames.
Any plan is better than nothing; it provides focus.
NO!! Stop!! Romance is a numbers game! If you’re scared to play the numbers, it’s time to get unstuck. You’ve got several hundred frogs to kiss to find your shmoopie. So you’re afraid of catching lip warts from a hundred frogs? Get over it. That’s why we have penicillin. Create a plan: Step 1. Get vaccinated against lip warts. Step 2. Start kissing. Step 3. Be thankful that all you have to do is kiss the frogs. In the original fairy tale … let’s just say the warts were harder to get rid of.
There’s no surefire plan, but any plan is better than nothing. Once you have the plan, focus on on that and your brain will calm down and start moving.
You can even make a plan for the different steps: Make a plan for how to meet new people. Make a plan for how to approach the people you meet. And make a plan for how to talk to the people you approach. I recommend saying “Hi! We haven’t met yet. My name is insert-your-name-here.” Just having these plans makes you more confident about finding someone in general. And confidence is attractive, so you get a nice bonus.
Crucially, when your plan doesn’t go according to your expectations (and I promise you, it won’t always be smooth), don’t give up! Tweak your plan if you want to, and keep putting yourself out there. You can even scrap the plan entirely and choose a new one. They’re free.
Use plans for advancing your career
Some people are super-organized about their careers. But for many of us, we just have a vague idea that we’ll be promoted and move forward as time goes on. Then the intern we hired gets promoted over our head and requires us to wear a tutu to work every day. If we were a ballerina, this would be fine. But as it is, the tutu clashes with our fashionable paisley ensemble. (All bow down to the amazing power of rayon.)
Just having a plan, any plan, will help you get moving in your career. Step 1: listen to Get-it-Done Guy episode #462, Take Charge of your Career and Grow a Pair to decide what career advancement would mean for you. Step 2: search out specific job opportunities by reading trade magazines within your industry, checking the job board at your current company, and holding a seance to seek the advice of your dead ancestors, who really can’t be expected to know anything about the early–21st-century job market, but when she was alive, Aunt Sadie had an opinion about everything, so you know at least she’ll talk to you. Step 3: network your way into those companies to get interviews.
Is this a realistic plan? Sure. It’s super high-level, but that’s still enough to engage your brain. Simply focus on whichever step is foremost and you’ll find yourself making progress.
Plans are more than a roadmap to accomplish something. You can use them to build your confidence and get unstuck when you don’t know what to do. Use them anywhere you’re stuck, even places we don’t normally think of planning. Building a social life, finding a shmoopie, and jump-starting your career are just a few places where a plan may be more valuable for its confidence and motivation than for the actual steps it says to take. So wherever you’re stuck right now, make a plan—any plan—and get moving.
Using plans as a confidence-building tool for overcoming procrastination is just one tiny topic that Eric shared. In our full interview, he discusses why being valedictorian doesn’t necessarily lead to success,
You can listen at http://getitdoneguy.com/barking.
This is Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. I run programs to help people have Extraordinary Lives and extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!