Don’t let planning every second lead to feelings of failure, inadequacy

At this point in our lives, we all have the same questions running through our heads: Where do I see myself in five years? Where am I headed? What’s my future going to be like? In short, what is my plan?

We seem to feel the incessant need to catalogue our existence. Whether we’re aiming for small (“I want to lose five pounds before summer gets here”) or large goals (“I want to start a family five/eight/ten years from now”), it seems easier to set up our life on a timeline. Our mental plan gives us a point to aim towards; we feel like if we don’t have a plan, we won’t get any of our goals accomplished.

But realistically? Planning might actually be bad for us.

Psychology suggests that over-planning our lives can cause anxiety, stress and low self-esteem. While this may seem counter-intuitive (“Doesn’t having a plan reduce the amount of stress I’d be under?”), in some cases, it’s very true. Setting goals that you have to scramble to accomplish causes stress, and failing to accomplish such goals lowers your self-esteem.

Think about it this way: planning to get an internship at an important company by the time you’re twenty is a good goal to have, and if you achieve this mental objective, you’re right on schedule. However, if life’s circumstances don’t permit this to happen, you’re left with a sense of failure. Even though you may be able to achieve the same goal down the road at some point, the fact that you “missed” it at age 20 damages your self-esteem and leaves you with a sense of “falling behind” on your schedule.

Missed goals aren’t the only stressors, however. Future plans can cause just as much anxiety. By putting a date on a plan you have for yourself, you’ve suddenly given yourself a ticking clock. Instead of looking forward to what you might accomplish, you’re faced with the fear of messing up and failing to complete your goal in time.

“But we can’t just stop planning our lives,” the critic might say. “We have to look toward the future.” And of course, this is true. It’s important to have a good idea of what you want your future to look like. But instead of setting goals like “I want to be married by the time I’m twenty five,” try phrasing it differently: “I want to get married.” You aren’t giving up on what you want; you’re simply giving yourself the leeway to figure life out without an impending deadline.

Instead of packing your class list so heavily that you do badly in your classes because you have a goal to graduate in so many years, change your way of thinking. Don’t put your life on a schedule. If you graduate a year later than you originally planned, ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Take your life a step at a time, focusing on what you can do right now. Work hard and challenge yourself, certainly, but don’t let your mental objectives paralyze you with thoughts like “I have two years left to complete this goal” or “I need to do this before my next birthday.”

As it turns out, psychological studies suggest that people who don’t organize their futures down to the last detail are happier and generally live more satisfying lives. They seem to be better equipped to take life as is comes and not to stress out if something doesn’t go as planned. It’s easier for them to bounce back and stay level-headed in extraneous circumstances; they are much more likely to go with the flow.

In summary, keep your mind focused on the present. As you take on each of life’s stages, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the most important part of the challenge is to complete it, not to complete it more quickly than everyone else. Don’t stress about what your life is going to look like two or five or 10 years down the road; you’d be better off concentrating on what you can do with it right now. Don’t let a need to plan get in the way of your desire to live.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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