Make your planning practice-, buffer-, and fail proof
Big projects, also known as things we find rather difficult or ‘a lot’. We tend to experience them as stressful for two reasons. Firstly, because they overwhelm us (think back to the big mountain example of the previous part). Secondly, because we set too little time apart for reflection, practice or a necessary break on our way to the final objective or goal. This results in ‘planning’ not being a useful tool anymore.
Now, you might be thinking how to make planning work for you?
For things you find difficult because they are out of your comfort zone, you need to plan more time than you would for activities you do without effort every day. Not only do you need time for doing it, but you also need time to practice, as well as time for recovery. Doing things that are new to you takes a lot of mental energy, and therefore you need to build some buffer time around those activities, in order to reload yourself mentally.
In the time you are practicing you’ll have some time to test and try different things. You can find out what works and what doesn’t; having time to make ‘mistakes’ or ‘fail’ and learn from them. Failing is often seen as something negative which we have to avoid at all counts. We want you to show that it is actually quite the opposite.
An example clarifies what we mean.
When professional climber Jorg Verhoeven had the plan to free climb the iconic wall ‘The Nose’ (a part of the granite mountain ‘El Capitan’ in Yosemite, US), many people called him a fool. Free climbing means that the climber may use ropes and other climbing protection, but only to protect himself from falling, not to help himself to climb easier or faster. It is a gigantic effort to free climb a mountain as hard to climb as The Nose. Years passed without anyone succeeding in climbing it. Jorg was aware of that fact. The wall is 900 meters high. Jorg was also aware of that fact.
But Jorg thought he had a good chance of succeeding, because he had a secret weapon. All his planning has always been practice-, buffer-, and fail proof. That helped him to consistently reach his objectives, how discouragingly high they might have seemed – often literally.
Jorg had done a lot of research into attempts by his fellow climbers attempting to climb The Nose and had discovered that they didn’t necessarily quit because the climb was physically too tiring, but rather because of some mental issue.
This climb wasn’t easy, but nevertheless it was technically doable for experienced climbers. The problem that stopped other climbers was that they needed to keep on going without any mistakes for all the 900 meters of the mountain. Jorg: “Many of my predecessors were very good climbers and had a lot of experience prior to this attempt. But they all gave up, mostly because they lost their morale because things didn’t go well during the climb.”
In other words: these climbers didn’t take into consideration the possibility that things wouldn’t go as they had planned. Their planning focused on the goal which would only be achievable if everything went exactly according to their plan: the weather, their physical state, their self-confidence… But they were always too optimistic in their calculations.
This is how Jorg managed to succeed, where many others gave up: he looked at climbing The Nose as if it were a long-term project, didn’t assume he would reach his objective easily, or in a short amount of time. He calculated extra time for if something wasn’t going as planned along the way. He had planned sufficient time for all of his practicing, doubting and failing. Moreover: he expected things to go sour from the start.
What we can learn from this?
Many plans fail; we miss a massive number of objectives and we are not starting new projects because we deem them unachievable. These projects may very well be achievable for us, if we just give ourselves more time. By planning in enough time to reload, practice and recover, we are able to work on our goals without any time pressure, and without losing our morale. If things don’t work out the first or third time, it’s ok: we already anticipated that, there is no hurry, we try again.
So, failing or making ‘mistakes’ is not wrong, it is part of the plan and part of achieving your goal. You learn from it and next time you’ll try from a different angle. This way of looking at it reduces stress and disappointment, it strengthens your courage and resilience muscles, it builds your self-confidence and will ultimately lead you to your final objective.
Important to note here: planning is important, but if you start planning too much then it will hinder you from taking action. So, make a plan, but also keep going by taking courageous steps towards your objective. You can do it! Let the small steps be your energy driver for the bigger steps you take.
EXAMPLE: Preparing for an important presentation
When your manager comes up to you and asks you to present the project you're working on at next week's management team meeting, you have to come up with a plan to make it work. Especially when speaking in public isn’t your favourite activity and makes you nervous. The planning can look at follows:
Step 1, today: put all your thoughts and ideas on paper. Goal: to clarify the content of your presentation.
step 2, this week: do 1 or 2 try runs with colleagues to practice and bounce ideas. Maybe they have some critical questions which can improve your presentation. Goal: feeling comfortable with speaking in public and see how your presentation is received to feel more sure.
Step 3, this week: Maybe your manager wants to see it first before you present your project at the team meeting. (Take some extra time, due to the busy schedule of your manager).
Step 4, next week: practice one more time and you're ready for the big day!
By dividing preparing for your big presentation into smaller steps and by making time to practice and ‘fail’ you keep it manageable for yourself. Moreover, by practising you strengthen your courage and resilience muscles, so that you are ready for your final objective: presenting at the managers team meeting.