How planning can create stress

It's that time of year when there is often a period of reflection (sometimes assisted by a glass or two of something) and then time to look forward and plan for the coming year.  And this year, it is not just about a new year but a new decade.

I used to be very like this and would enjoy the process of mapping out end of year goals, then breaking these down into quarterly targets to reach those goals incrementally.  And then I'd put that plan to one side, to get it out 3 months later to see how I'd done.......

But no more.  Now my reflective period has shown me two massive sources of stress in that process:

1.  If I didn't achieve those targets (because something unforeseen came up) then I'd feel huge disappointment (aka failure) 
2. Those plans were like rigid structures forcing you along a certain path -meaning that often you missed routes that you could have taken that may have made for a better journey, and if there was a barrier in the way, you got stuck!

My new plan is not to plan.  But that does not mean no progress!

I have a very clear goal of where I want to get to - and that is somewhere out there in the future and not tied to a specific date - which removes the stress of the risk of being late!  And each day, with that end goal very clear in mind, I think about what I can do to get that bit closer to getting there.

You may know by now that I like talking in metaphors and thus you may not be surprised that I have a lovely one for my new approach to planning - and I call it the satnav system!  You can watch a short video that explains it here, or read on.....

When you jump in your car to go somewhere new, you will often have a postcode that you use to put into the satnav.  You could put in G3 4BH and it will get you to a specific street in Glasgow - this is like having a very specific goal.  However you could also put in Glasgow and it will enable you to start making your journey - even typing in Scotland could get you moving!  The key being, you don't need to have a finite destination to allow you to start heading in the right direction.  Again, this allows you some flexibility if you decide along the way that Edinburgh looks more exciting then Glasgow!

Once you are on the road, you then just focus on the stretch of street ahead that you can see - because this is the only place that you can control your journey in - worrying about what is happening 60 miles ahead is pointless as you are not there yet!

If I was heading to Glasgow from Salisbury, the fastest route may take me through Oxford, on to Manchester, but equally, there are numerous different  routes possible and if I just stuck to the originally planned route but Manchester was gridlocked, it could end up being the longest one and leave me massively stressed sat in a traffic jam! 

What satnavs tend to do however is pop up with that option of 'a new faster route has been identified, would you like to change?'  And therein lies the option to divert from the original plan which may mean a longer journey but you see some amazing countryside along the way and still get there quicker!

My new plan to not plan has meant that I have journed much further North since using it!  Now that I am not forcing myself down a certain route, it leads to flexibility.  It allows you to notice those little diversions or short cuts that may make the whole journey more pleasant and even get you to the destination quicker.  It takes the stress away of worrying about the 'traffic jam' in Manchester because you are still south of Oxford.  And if you are not entirely sure on where you want to end up, you can still start making progress in the general direction and trust that with every decision you take, you are moving away from where you were!

In my days in the corporate world, we would spend many hours drafting annual plans and typically, these would go into a filing cabinet to not see the light of day until you repeated the process 12 months later.  And usually find that where I'd ended up was miles away from where I'd wanted to be 12 months earlier!

With my satnav now with me, my direction is clear and each day feels like there is progress.  At each junction, decisions are easier to make as I know I want to keep going North.    And most importantly, I know there are many different routes that will get me there so it allows me to pick the road that is the best one at that moment in time!

What I have experienced with this technique is that it leaves you much more open to inspiration.  I don't need to know the whole route and there are options available that I don't yet even know about - new roads in the planning that aren't yet on the map!  But when those ideas appear, as long as they still take me north, I have the flexibility to respond to inspiration. And in that inspiration, excitement replaces stress!

Do you have a favourite approach to planning??  Or could you now be persuaded to get your satnav out????

Published by Caroline Cavanagh Clinical Hypnotherapist and author of Anxiety Alchemy. on |

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