I am a pantser. What does that mean? It means that I write by the seat-of-my-pants. Plans? Outlines? Yeah, I get the concepts — I just don’t use them very often, if at all.
Watching a favorite Christmas episode of Doctor Who the other night, the Doctor said something particularly profound that struck a nerve with me.
“Do what I do, hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.”
People who are planners, I know, find this idea dreadful. Pretend it’s a plan? But what about actual planning?
Twenty-eight years of medieval fencing has taught me a lot of different things. One, though, applies directly to melee combat (a multi-player fight rather than a one-on-one duel): No plan will survive contact with the enemy.
Why is this true? Because you have control over your thoughts, feelings, and actions. And that’s about it. You have ZERO control over the weather, environmental factors, other people and how they think, feel, and act, and anything else having to do with anyone or anything other than yourself.
One of the best ways to accommodate this idea is to live in the present. Right here and now is when and where you can take control over your own mindset.
That’s not to poo-poo all planning. Having goals and direction in life is important. Even in the now you are seldom still for long.
Holding tight and pretending it’s a plan tends to lead to the formation of actual plans. Vague, maybe, and sketchy…but sometimes that’s for the best.
The more detail, the more potential points of failure
During melee combat, I have watched a commander detail their plan down to the individual fencers in the units. Each and every move carefully orchestrated and timed. On paper, this looks precise and unbeatable.
Then you actually hear the cannon and start the fight. Hey, wasn’t the other side supposed to roll their entire army to the right? How come they’re splitting in half but staying to the center? We didn’t plan for that.
You can guess what your opponents will do, but it will only be a guess because you can’t think, feel, or act for anyone else. Planning with an assumption of their movement needs to include an important caveat. They might not move that way after all — so have a plan ‘B’. Also, know enough tactics to invent other plans if that won’t work, either.
This is true of anything you plan in life. The more the detail, the more points of failure you can create. Why? Because the Universe is unpredictable. Other people are outside of your influence and control. Mother Nature doesn’t bow to your whims.
For example, let’s say you work for an awesome company at a job you love. You have plotted out every single detail of your career from now until you retire. Thus far, the promotions and raises have come as planned. It is stable, constant, and you’ve got the next twenty years of your life planned to the finest detail.
Unexpectedly, the boss sells the company to a major conglomerate and they fire you. Or you get laid off because of another department’s screw-up. Maybe a hurricane destroys the office building and the company cannot afford to rebuild. Perhaps you get hurt or sick and lose a year or two to recovery.
No plan is perfect nor infallible.
Flexibility is important
These are all dire happenings that might never come to pass. You might be able to remain totally stable at the great job for the next twenty years. Everything might go precisely as you have planned without a hitch.
I can’t give you the odds on this, but I would hazard an educated guess that no plan goes off without a hitch or two along the way. That’s life. You can’t control anything but your own mindset.
Again, I am not saying you should make no plans at all. The chaos of the Universe needs to be tamed, corralled, herded, and otherwise impacted by you. But it is in your best interest to be flexible.
Why? Because when you are inflexible the inevitability of change can rock your world. It can hurt you, dash you against the rocks like a ship in a stormy sea, and drive you mad with thoughts of unfairness and despair.
Change is constant. It is unavoidable. It is inevitable and utterly outside your control, save your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and all-else directly under your control like your appearance, location, and so on. Even that which you can control might require time, like losing weight and growing out your hair.
The other importance of flexibility is that it lessens the potential for you to break. Even the tallest skyscrapers in the world flex in the wind. If they did not they would collapse. That’s true of you and me, too.
Make a plan with options
Having a plan for the direction of your life, however you are living it, can be empowering. It gives you direction and purpose and goals to reach for. Even in the here-and-now, having some idea of how to go with — and even ride-out — change can make the most of your one-and-only life.
What does this mean? It means that you should have a plan, have some detail to it, but also options. Maybe more than one outcome. More than one path from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ and beyond. Vague details that are specific but open-ended can be exceptional.
For example, I am working on making my living full-time as a writer. I have also begun down another path to being a voice actor and public speaker to the ways I desire to make my living.
There are novels that have been published and more books on the way. But then I have also added freelance writing for websites and other businesses, and my articles on Medium and my own blog.
I have some plans in place for how this will turn out. But because so many of the factors involve other people and circumstances outside my control, I am following The Doctor’s example. Thus, I am holding tight and pretending it’s a fully-formed plan.
Be mindful of yourself when planning
Finally, it’s vitally important that you be mindful of yourself. That means you need to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Since these are the only things over when you can exert real influence and control, they are the key to any plan or outline of a plan.
When you go with the flow and don’t take stock of your mindset, you lose mindfulness. That can open you up to getting off-track and having a harder time dealing with change when it happens.
You are empowered with the ability to roll with virtually anything the Universe tosses your way. Lack, scarcity, and insufficiency are human artifices. The Universe is abundant. That’s why new ideas, technologies, and means to the ends crop up all the time. Just about anything you can imagine is possible. Improbable, perhaps, but not necessarily impossible.
Mindfulness takes work. Yes, you might be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions right now. But as the day goes on and you interact with people and things you will fall back to subconscious thought. So you need to reengage mindfulness to be aware in the here-and-now when the here-and-now is later in the day, week, month, year, and so on.
It DOES get easier with time and practice, but it will always be ongoing. There is something new to be learned all the time, and you are gifted with the power of gaining more knowledge as you choose.
You are more powerful than you realize.
Yes, the best-laid plans might be something where you totally fake it ’til you make it, and/or make it up as you go along. To me, that just means the options and variables are many, and the potential and possibility is vast.
Thus, the best-laid plans can always get better.
You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you and I matter, whatever plans we’re making.