“Plan B. You’ve always got to have a Plan B.” -Sylvester Stallone
Recently my "Plan A" academic and career path took a slight detour. I could achieve “Plan A” but through a different path with certain complications and unintended consequences. I found myself with the feeling of spinning my wheels in the mud. I had emotionally over-invested in “Plan A,” while the execution of it was mainly out of my control.
After a couple of hours of pondering my course correction and sitting in the uncomfortableness of change, I realized my error. Anything outside my control is uncertain. Period. During times of stress, pressure, or worry, we should only focus on what we can control at the moment. And ignore everything else. We can control our minds, body, and skills within an arm’s length (or 3 feet)—nothing else. Staying in our three-foot world is a valuable worldview in any negative situation we encounter. The graphic below is the best way to visualize “staying in your three-foot world.”
By over-investing in my “Plan A,” I failed to fully develop my “Plan B” or the most critical thinking evolution, “Plan C” or “Plan Chaos”. I got lazy in my headspace, so my calm and peace suffered because of my lack of preparation. A highly evolved instinct honed by hundreds of hours of practice, “Plan Chaos” is several interactions from your perceived baseline of outcomes. Everything is going wrong, we are adjusting, moving, and improvising on the fly with our goals, mission, or priorities fixed in our minds.
Remember what we really control: our minds, body, and skills. Nothing more.
A "Plan B & C: should be an everyday preparation like an alternative route to work when there is a car accident. Believing I had the contingencies outside my control accounted for, and I got lazy. But what about this headline below?
“Does Having a Plan B Sabotage Your Plan A? Surprising new research on why we succeed, and how we blow it.” Psychology Today article by Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D.
“A recent research study (Shin and Milkman, 2016) revealed the dangers and risks of having a “Plan B” when you truly want your “Plan A” to succeed. The researchers found that once you begin thinking about a fallback plan, your desire to achieve your ultimate goal decreases.” (1)
“The researchers conducted a series of three experiments in which people were asked to think about an alternate plan in the event that their original effort was to fail. They found that those who were encouraged to develop a Plan B were less likely to achieve their goal than those who did not receive these instructions. Not only were the Plan B participants less successful, their interest in reaching their original goal decreased.” (2)
So, I don’t need my backup chute when I skydive? Forget the spare tire in the trunk of my car. I shouldn’t have a second pair of reading glasses. I should only apply to one college, not two or three. Hold on, it gets worse.
“And there’s another phrase that can become a part of your self-talk: Planning for failure gives you permission to fail. We believe what we tell ourselves about the world and our potential, so remind yourself that you can succeed and that you have the tools necessary to do so; don’t build an arsenal of self-sabotaging beliefs and self-talk. A successful outcome occurs when you plan for success, so focus your energy on achieving Plan A.” (3)
What?! How about this quote? “I don’t have a plan B, it do or die.” Really? I have been in countless do-or-die situations, and I never once said that.
Let me suggest another way of looking at Plan B or C.
“Change is inevitable, and a Plan B perspective helps individuals prepare for it and to expect the unexpected, whether that means a mistake or just a different situation than they anticipated.” – Valerie Lankford, Ph.D.
From Dr. Lankford’s paper, “If my “Plan A life” had worked out, I would not be a counselor today. I would not still be passionate about my career and grateful for my family and friends. I’ve often said, “I’m so glad my parents screwed up because I’ve had a much richer life than I would have had otherwise.” But learning how to turn setbacks into opportunities did not occur overnight, and I have not found a single cure that works for everyone.” (4)
“A Plan B Attitude. When Plan A does not work, go with what I call Plan B. When I use Plan B as a frame of reference, I do not take it for granted that life will proceed from day to day as I had planned. However, it is still possible to meet realistic goals, and many parts of each day may go as planned. I am as prepared as one can be for the unexpected. This perspective has helped me change, adapt, and surprise myself with what I am able to do” (5)
Please don’t listen to the nonsense that suggests a Plan B or C makes us less able to achieve success. Workable backup plans give us confidence and competence in the most challenging situations.
Let's look back at the opening quote from Sylvester Stallone: “Plan B. You’ve always got to have a Plan B.” Who does believe Rocky?
Until next time. Travel safe.
(1) Degges-White, Suzanne, “Does Having a Plan B Sabotage Your Plan A? Surprising new research on why we succeed, and how we blow it.” Psychology Today, 29 July 2016 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201607/does-having-plan-b-sabotage-your-plan
(4) Valerie Lankford (2012) My Whole Life is Plan B: A Psychological and Practical Approach to Resilience, Transactional Analysis Journal, 42:1, 62 70, DOI: 10.1177/036215371204200108