Let’s talk a bit about the practical part of my blog title, shall we? Being a free spirit is great fun, but a rush of inspiration isn’t often enough to carry an idea to fruition. At some point, you’ll have to come back down to earth and make a plan. I love plans, I live on plans, I feel worried if there is no plan. And yes, if you couldn’t guess, I’m also a maker of lists. But for those of you who may not be so enamored by the idea of planning, let me tell you some reasons why they’re so wonderful.
1. A plan will give you a way to hold yourself accountable.
Because let’s face it, everyone wants to be lazy sometimes, and if I have a choice between curling up on the couch and watching a cheesy movie and working hard, well, I might occasionally be somewhat tempted to do the former. Particularly if I’m tired. Or I don’t feel well. Or something happened to upset me. However, if I have a plan to which I’ve committed (either to myself or to others if I need an extra kick in the pants), I’m a lot more likely to postpone the movie until later and actually get stuff done.
2. A plan allows you to break your goal down into small, obtainable goals as well as larger-reaching ultimate goals.
If you haven’t run in ten years, having the goal “I want to run ten miles a day” might be completely overwhelming. But if your goal is to start by running ten minutes, three times a week, it doesn’t seem quite so impossible. For many large goals, all of your incremental goals will add up to the final product. Writing a novel is a great example: if I’m writing a 70k young adult novel, and I have a daily word goal of 1000, five days a week, at the end of fourteen weeks, I’ll have a completed rough draft. Goal met, and I never even had to build up to something.
3. A plan will help keep your motivation high.
Every time you reach one of those smaller goals, it’s like giving yourself a treat. After awhile, you crave those regular treats; you even expect them to happen. Having had the positive reinforcement in the past, it becomes easier to buckle down to receive that reward again.
On the other hand, let’s say you have no plan. You have this exciting idea and work on it for a short time fueled by your enthusiasm. Then your excitement peters out and the idea sits in the corner, collecting dust. And make no mistake: you won’t always be excited about your idea, oh no. At some points you’ll think it’s painfully boring, at others you’ll think it sucks, at others you’ll hate it with all the fiery passion in your being. With a plan, you might be able to force yourself through the hard times. Without a plan? The path of less resistant will look oh so tempting.
Also, there’s been a fair amount of talk in the newspapers in the past year about how willpower is a limited resource. While it might be possible to increase your own willpower, having a plan will help you prioritize the most important use for the willpower you’ve got for any particular day or week.
4. A plan will help you decide if you’re really serious about your goal.
I am not a crafty person, but I have a lot of crafty friends, many of whom know how to knit. For awhile, I found myself often saying, “Oh, I wish I knew how to knit, but you know, I couldn’t possibly, I have these wrist issues, I’m not a crafty person” and whatever other excuses I felt like creating. And of course, these excuses would be followed by protestations that of course I could learn, my friends could teach me, and you can guess the rest.
Finally, I sat down and thought about what it would really take to learn to knit, and realized I had no actual interest in it whatsoever. I was interested in the results, sure: I’m a scarf fanatic and always want more scarves in different colors, and I want the opportunity to bond with my friends. But I wasn’t at all interested in the actual process of knitting. So now I don’t say “I wish I could knit” anymore, which both saves myself the defeatism of thinking of all the reasons I couldn’t possibly, and my friends the irritation of me making knitting about me (when I don’t even do it!) instead of relaxing and appreciating their fine talents.
5. A plan will help you respect and value yourself and your work, regardless of outcome.
There are some things in life we just can’t control, no matter how kick ass our plans might be. However, even if you’re not where you want to be right now, having a plan means you can at least be actively working towards your ideal life. In my experience, having concrete tasks that will help me move towards something I want is a lot more happy-making than sitting alone in a dark room wallowing, “I don’t have what I want. Why don’t I have what I want?” Yeah, not very fun. And even if I don’t reach a certain outcome for a plan, I’ve still shown I was capable of following through and working on a project (whether that be a novel, a weight loss plan, organizing a vacation to Europe, throwing a themed mystery party, or what have you) to its finish. Completion of a plan gives a lot of personal satisfaction, and it helps build awareness of your capability and personal awesomeness.