Wanting The Perfect Plan Can Keep Us Stuck

Life Coaching - Dirt road running through undergrowth

When we apply machine-like expectations of ourselves, we run the risk of becoming paralysed by the need for perfection.

I encountered a young person at that particularly challenging time in life when one must step out of schooling into the rest of one’s life.

He was completely stuck because he expected to have a fully formed life plan that would guarantee success and tell him what the next step much be. And, as a result, he could not move forward because he had no plan!

With hardly any life experience, having functioned in a fully structured, prescriptive, educational system for more than a decade, he demanded of himself to have full insight and knowledge of the world to make a perfect plan that would serve him for at least the next ten years.

This made me think really hard about the ideal of the big life plan where everything is anticipated and plotted completely with dates, way into the future. To me, if feels rather like fortune-telling. It assumes that we have total control over our environment and life events – and total knowledge about ourselves and our world both present and future. It also leaves no room for flexibility and adaptation.

This style of thinking is rather mechanistic – as if us humans are machines – with a full set of specifications and prescribed perfect functions.

Machines are wonderful things and serve us well, and on a physical level, it may seem that our bodies function in a machine-like manner. However, there are several things we need to remember when wanting to operate like machines: machines need operators, machines have no emotions or needs, they have limited functions and when machines breakdown they need to get fixed by some outside force.

We humans are not at all like machines.

We humans are not at all like machines. We are organisms which means we don’t break, but we may get injured or impaired in some way. We take time to heal and we participate in our own healing! This also means that we have the capacity to grow and learn as we pass through various life experiences. We have multiple capacities across many different situations and are marvellously adaptable and flexible when compared to machines.

We also have a will which gives us decision-making power and the ability to analyse and understand our situation. And those troublesome emotions? They too help us. They keep us safe, they guide us to meet our essential needs for survival and they help us to build relationships with one another.

How does this then impact on our need to plan and succeed? Does it mean that we should give up on planning? Not at all, but it may help to see a plan as an emerging process of learning, acting on the learning and adjusting. Basically, one can see it as a rich process of continual updates – much like computer software.

The idea of the perfect fail-safe plan is basically context blind. It fails to take account of the amazing capacity for growth we all have and fails to take account of the scarily unpredictable, yet richly textured, world we live in.

Certainly, goals and values are very important in terms of how we make choices for our future. So, also, is a realistic assessment of our environment and how it is likely to impact us. This includes an appreciation of both our limitations and opportunities as well as an optimistic belief in our ability to adapt and grow.

So, sometimes, when looking into the future, a good place to start is to ask about your own values and ideals. What kind of person do you want to be? In which way do you wish to engage with the world? How do you think you could express your values and ideals in a practical way? Answering these questions helps to set boundaries for the types of things you will and won’t do; thereby narrowing the field of options.

The next set of questions are about your own situation. What are your strengths, interest and present capacities? Are there any real obstacles and constraints and how could one work around them?

The next step then is to collect information to help with a plan of some sort. This requires action and experimentation. What works for me and what doesn’t? In this process, it becomes possible to get a better focus on a future vision.

It will not provide a perfect plan that plots your entire life story, but it will set the direction of a great life adventure that will unfold according to your values and ideals.

So, unlike the mechanistic view, that can put us into paralysis waiting for the perfect future to become clear, the more organic view will be to “muddle about until you figure it out”; having faith that your intentions with this process will bring clarity.

The emphasis is, therefore, on courageous action; even if it doesn’t seem to fit into a hard and fast plan. Allow each experience to assist in developing an ever-emerging and unfolding path.

One of my favourite quotes is from a famous tennis player, Arthur Ashe: Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.

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