Why Too Much Planning Damages Your Resilience

Being able to plan is an amazing skill.  We plan so many things, from what to do on holiday, to what we’ll have for dinner; from ensuring the perfect wedding to planning our own funeral! 

These are all useful things to do, and I’m definitely not knocking planning.  After all, a decent business plan, for example, can be the route to a much-needed bank loan, or to securing backing from investors. 

But planning doesn’t always work.

As a former English teacher and examiner, I’ve seen my fair share of spider diagrams, mind maps and lists hastily scribbled across the pages of thousands of exam booklets.  But I realised something interesting.  The students who did best in their exams were usually the ones who didn’t plan their answers in advance.  Given that as teachers, we were encouraged to inculcate the planning habit in our students, I’d expected it to be those who did.

Many top performing students, however, simply read the question, picked up their pen, and began writing. 

And then…magic happened.

Unconstrained by the need to stick rigidly to a plan, their creativity was unleashed.  Thoughts were synthesised.  Ideas were shaped and brought to life through words on the page.  Stunning new insights were arrived at and conveyed confidently in ways which, at times, had me questioning my own beliefs, and certainly changing the way I saw the world.

And all without a plan.

Looking back now, I’m not surprised by this.  I recently wrote a book chapter aimed at helping leaders and managers to become more resilient.  I’d been asked to plan this out in advance so that I could liaise with collaborators who were writing some of the other chapters. 

But to me, the planning process felt dull and uninspiring.  I knew I had ideas floating around in my head, but gathering them together into something well-considered seemed almost pointless.  It might have worked for others, but not for me. 

The trouble was, I knew there were lots of other ideas in my head.  These kinds of ideas, the punchy, controversial ones, always seemed to lie just out of reach, and didn’t yield to the planning process.  Perhaps it’s the same for you?

The plans we make should be ‘held loosely’, and we should build into the execution process, the expectation that what we end up with might be different from what we anticipated.  If we don’t plan for the fact that our plan might not work, and instead, wait for the perfect moment to begin, in the worst-case scenario, we might never get started.

For me, it’s only through getting on and writing that I have any hope of creating something useful, informative, and hopefully, at times, even entertaining.  Sometimes, planning everything out on paper is irrelevant and a waste of time.  By placing our focus on the plan, we can actually stifle our creativity.

Yes, by following the rules, we may limit our flair and originality, and end up producing something much like, well, anybody else would produce.  Run of the mill.  Samey.  Boring.

But here’s the exciting bit: if you find yourself stuck in planning, always trying to decide what to do, rather than just getting on with it, NOT planning could be the solution to increasing your resilience.

Huh?  Where did that come from?  You can be more resilient if you don’t plan?

Well…yes, but more on that later.

Don’t get me wrong, when you have lots of things to do, it’s tempting to write it all down and prioritise.  This can be an excellent strategy.  ‘Emptying’ your brain can ease the stress levels and feelings of overwhelm.  And there is often great benefit in having a logical step-by-step process to work to. 

Who knows?  Creativity may even come calling as you begin to action the steps you’ve planned.

It’s true that, from a resilience perspective, creating a plan CAN be a positive response to stressors you are facing in your life.  Doing this slows down your over-thinking, the precise mechanism that floods your body with stress hormones making you feel tired, anxious, depressed, and ultimately burned out. 

So, a brilliant strategy – sometimes – and one that can certainly help you to become more resilient if it becomes a habit.

Sometimes, however, you need to think ‘on the hoof’, and you can actually use this to your advantage, too, by interrupting your usual ‘stress trigger has to equal stress’ thought pattern.

It’s a fact that there is a different kind of resilience boosting opportunity between stress trigger (paperwork, accounts etc.) and stress.  If you want to become more resilient AND creative, in some situations you could practise dealing with your stress triggers by taking a deep breath, then springing into action immediately.

Practising this approach regularly will help to fix it in your brain as a ‘go-to’ behaviour.  Allowing the creativity to flow will deliver a powerful ‘feel-good’ dopamine hit.  You’ll become hooked because you’ll realise that it’s working.  You’ll keep doing it because you want the ‘feel-good’ hit again, then…

Hey presto! You’ve wired in a new positive habit.  You’ve learned to think on your feet.  You’re stimulating your creativity more often, and coming up with great solutions. 

And above all else, your resilience levels are off the scale!

For one-to-one or group resilience coaching and training, contact me

Getting control of your life and work: tips based on England’s performances at the Rugby World Cup

As England tight-head prop, Kyle Sinkler, was pole-axed to the ground, rendered unconscious by an accidental blow to the head from one of his own players, his team’s Rugby World Cup dream ended. 

Of course, my England rose-coloured spectacles may be distorting reality, and perhaps England were never going to be a match for the brutally skilful South African side, who went on to take a vice-like grip on the game. 

But, for me, that was a defining moment.  Sinkler’s replacement, Dan Cole, had a torrid time in the scrum against South Africa’s Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, and England’s game plan unravelled as they went on to concede six scrum penalties, and to lose all hope of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Ultimately, England lost their composure, lost their heads, and, crucially, lost control.

One week earlier, against the mighty All Blacks, it had been different.  England’s 19-7 semi-final victory was secured on the back of a heady mixture of superb defensive organisation, bone-crunching tackles and incisive speed of thought which propelled them to the final… and that mauling at the hands of The Springboks.

And yet, from failure springs opportunity.

For England, there is now the opportunity to evolve, to fashion this side, the youngest World Cup team in the professional era, into something truly special.  For the rest of us, there is the opportunity to interpret the successes and failures of England’s World Cup journey in ways that can help us in our businesses, in our roles as leaders, and in our everyday lives.

Below, extrapolated from the detail of England’s World Cup performances, are 3 key learning points for wresting back control of your work and your life.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’  Benjamin Franklin’s words ring true even now.

Let’s first accept that the concept of what is and what isn’t failure is subjective.  Some might view the fact that England didn’t win the Rugby World Cup as clear evidence of failure, for example, whilst others might regard their wonderful, majestic race to the final as an obvious sign of progress and, therefore, of success.

What is obvious, however, is that however you define a successful outcome, there needs to be a plan in place to achieve it.  Coach Eddie Jones’ decision to reintroduce George Ford in the semi-final against the All Blacks was clearly part of a bigger plan given that he had ‘dropped’ him in the previous game.

And the plan paid off as Ford tortured The Kiwis with his range of precision kicking.  The embodiment of measured, calculating control, Ford never let up, and never gave England’s illustrious opponents the time or space to think.

It’s vital to take the time to formulate a plan to save time later.  Planning, as long as that planning is focused, is never time wasted. 

Lessons: 

  • Define success then put a plan in place to achieve it.
  • If you lead a team, get to know your team from the inside out. What are their strengths and what motivates them?  Do their talents need to be kept on the side-lines for a short while then unleashed for maximum gain, or would it be better to keep them in the game and to nurture them through the inevitable challenges so that they can blossom in due course?
  • Be consistent. Like Ford, never let up.  Regular actions every day, executed as part of a bigger plan, are far better than a haphazard scattergun approach.

2. Be consistent to create momentum

Great things can be achieved, and momentum built, by doing the small things well and by doing them consistently.  This idea can be applied to life too. 

England’s victory against the All Blacks was created, not just within the match itself, but in the years of building towards it where team selections were trialled, judgement calls made and players either integrated into the squad, or else dropped.

Leading up to the finals, relationships were nurtured amongst players, and between players and coaches, performances were constantly scrutinised and reflected upon, and diet, individualised training plans and meeting the psychological needs of the England players were all treated as an integral part of the grand plan; nothing was left to chance.  Victory at any stage of a World Cup competition really is a team game.

As well as this attention to detail off field, on field, England’s small wins helped build the momentum that carried them through the match:

Ford was consistent, kicking four penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and constantly forcing the New Zealand back three to play on the turn with his immaculate kicking game.

England’s defence was consistently solid, frequently driving their opponents backwards with the force of their tackles.

Handling was consistent, crisp and accurate.

Consistent excellence at the lineout (apart from the aberration that led to the New Zealand try) allowed a foothold in the game from which England were able to launch their attacks.

What is clear is that small steps, executed well, lead to marginal gains, which ultimately lead to greater success.  You can do this too, by working out the small steps that would make a difference in your own context, consistently following them through, reflecting on the results and making any changes necessary.   

Lessons:

 

  • Building momentum is a creative process. Use your intuition and skill as your guide for deciding which steps to take and in what order to take them.  Focus on the things you can control whilst keeping the bigger desired goal on the horizon.

 

  • Once you decide on your initial steps, take massive ACTION to achieve them. For more on the power of taking ’90 days of massive action’, see Michael Heppell’s How to be Brilliant.

 

  • Keep reflecting on whether your actions have moved you closer to the outcomes you seek, then adjust accordingly. There is no failure if you focus on the process and remain adaptable.  Read Will it Make the Boat go Faster?  to see how the British Olympic rowing team approached this.

 

  • Share the small successes to engage the emotions. You need to be able to rely on the cold, hard logic of your brain, and the brains of your team, but momentum is also built on the positive gut-level feelings of those mini victories along the way.

 

  • You attract more of what you focus on, so make sure you focus on the positive to build momentum. I once read a great little book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson.  In it, he refers to ‘the snowball effect of your thinking’. 

 

I love this metaphor, because it reminds me that, if I’m not careful, it’s easy to have a (snow)ball of negative thoughts spinning round in my head.  The point is, though, that whilst you can get into negative thinking habits, you can also get into the flow of thinking positively.  Doing this consistently actually changes the ‘wiring’ in the brain and will propel you into taking a series of positive actions as your momentum builds towards your goals. 

3. Take responsibility

For me, England’s World Cup campaign was a success because they reached the final, beat The All Blacks, and discovered a lot about their strengths and weaknesses.  Enabling each player to understand their part in controlling the outcome of games contributed to that success. 

But just understanding something isn’t enough.  Each player must also take responsibility for following their individualised training and diet regime, as well as for their actions on the pitch.  Whilst a game plan is always in place, this must be flexible, because a rugby match is dynamic and always changing. It’s down to the individual players to control their response to the massive range of challenges that face them.

That is true in life too.

Lessons:

  • Invest in your own personal development. In particular, look for a programme that increases awareness of your strengths so that you can use these to deal successfully with the inevitable challenges that will face you every day. 

 

One option for discovering your strengths is through the TIFF profiling tool.  Contact me for further details if you are interested in finding out more.

 

  • Make sure that you are able to flex and remain adaptable. Being able to change your plan in an instant is necessary in the dynamic world of work and life in general.  Adaptability is a hallmark of resilience.

 

  • It’s tough once the pressure is on but aim to respond rather than react in difficult situations. Be clear that reactive behaviours rarely produce the outcomes you are looking for.

Developing resilience, improving well-being and saving the planet

David Scott Brown & Karen Bentley-Brown providing training for Future Fixers

My wife, Karen, and I have been beavering away, planning Future Fixers for months.  But getting to the point where we are now ready to launch our packed programme of carefully designed activities has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.  We’ve had the thrill of realising, after all these years that, yes, there is a way for us to work together after all, and we’ve experienced the excitement of securing funding from Great Place Lakes and Dales, allowing us to offer six free places on our course.

But we’ve also faced the challenge of clinging to our vision as nagging doubts surfaced and our confidence levels threatened to plummet.  We’re so glad that, in spite of that, we held on tight and stuck with it.

The experiences we’ve gone through as we’ve worked towards making the programme happen, are very similar to those we’ll be helping our young people with as they reach for a brighter future.  And why wouldn’t they be?  Remaining resilient in the face of self-doubt and dealing with that nagging inner voice that keeps telling us we’re not good enough (impostor syndrome, anyone?) are very human challenges, after all.  We can’t radiate confidence all the time, but we can learn some skills to help us cope. Thrive even.

That’s where Future Fixers comes in.  It’s the purposeful business start-up programme for young people who want to make a difference.  It’s for those who perhaps have the beginnings of an eco-friendly business idea but aren’t sure how to put it into practice.  We want to help these people get out of their own way, get focused and get started.

And it all begins with a two-hour, one-to-one session designed to raise awareness of the things our participants, as individuals, already do well.  We all have a truly unique blend of strengths just waiting to be unleashed.  By putting our participants in touch with their own unique blend, we aim to help them communicate with confidence, get along brilliantly with others and promote highly effective behaviours both in their work and in their personal lives.

I’ll be using TIFF© and Functional Fluency to help with that.  If you want more information about The Functional Fluency Model and the TIFF© tool and how they can help transform patterns of behaviour that don’t work well, do check out the following website: https://functionalfluency.com/

As a business advisor with tons of experience, Karen will be co-delivering Future Fixers with me.  Getting right to the heart of what makes businesses ethical (as well as profitable), Karen will help our young people to understand what’s important to them (their values), how to set meaningful goals and how to present themselves to others. To get further details about Future Fixers, and to find more information about how Karen’s expertise helps businesses to flourish, please follow this link: https://www.bentley-brown.co.uk/future-fixers/

Last but not least, we’re throwing in some wonderful opportunities for our participants to benefit from inspiring mentors, as well as to listen to, and learn from, guest speakers who are experts in their field. We’ll also be offering suggestions on places and events where they can sell their goods and services.

If you think you or anyone you know might be interested in Future Fixers, please get in touch via the link to Karen’s website above. 

Why you can’t control everything, and why that’s great news!

Why you can’t control everything

Everyone has worries and concerns; it’s part of what makes us human. But what if you could simply let those worries go, and focus on the things that are truly important in life? What if you had a way to guarantee that all of that energy you’re using isn’t going to be wasted, but instead is going to move you closer to the joy and happiness you seek?

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