I speak to dozens of motivated, visionary women each month, and one common thread ties them all together: everyone loves to plan.
Whether it’s bullet journaling, a day planner, a complex calendar app or wall chart galore — we all have our own cherished systems we like to follow. Assuming, that is, that we actually follow them.
There’s where the real challenge comes in.
We’re told across society that “failing to plan means planning to fail.” Shiny planning and productivity systems are available everywhere. So we plan and plan and plan… spending our hard-earned money all kinds of shiny organizational tools. But how good are we at executing the plan consistently, and despite all obstacles?
A plan is only as good as the action it supports and the results it drives.
Which brings us to the real issue: results-oriented action.
For me, when I was struggling the most with fear, doubt and procrastination, I also struggled mightily with taking action. I was terrified of an outcome I couldn’t predict. So I planned and planned and prepared and prepared… and then never really took the actions my planning was designed to support.
Because the action involved risk. It involved uncertainty. I couldn’t predict what would happen, and I was desperately afraid of the “negative” emotions (so-called) that I would feel if the plan didn’t pan out.
After all, plans had not panned out in the past. While I wanted the positive result the plan promised me, I didn’t want any other result than the one I had imagined.
So I thought. And made notes. And sketched dates on calendars. And waited and hoped and prayed. But never …. did anything courageous.
I spent several years trying to figure out how to overcome this scenario in my life, which dominated my business, my creative projects, and other personal plans.
Ultimately, there was only one antidote to this that I discovered.
Throw out the plan.
Yes, you heard me right.
I might be the only coach on the planet who deals with issues of fear, productivity and action who actually says … forget planning—at least in the initial stages of your project.
We are taught phrases like “idea—action—plan” everywhere in society, but the real phrase out to be “idea—action—plan—action.” Cliche cultural phrases like the original one don’t take into account our fear of actually moving forward. They don’t help us see that planning before action will never get us anywhere if we’re addicted to overthinking and inertia and afraid to take any of the steps we’ve planned out so carefully.
You want your plan to be battle-tested and actually count, not just be a massive excuse to waste time on the front end of your endeavor. At least, that’s what I wanted. But to get there, I had to admit that my current style of planning was a stall tactic.
So here’s what I did instead:
I let some random, radical, not-well-thought-out actions determine what the plan would become.
Yes, that’s right.
I took action first, then assessed where I was and developed a plan to follow.
We grow up with the expectation that the plan must come first. But in reality, that plan doesn’t take into account any of the realities you’re going to face. Better to take some initial actions, see what happens, and let that drive your planning as you go rather than try to pre-plan, pre-determine and (let’s face it) pre-control what’s going to happen next.
So often as women, we don’t trust that our actions are enough. Our voices are enough. What we offer now is enough.
We think we have to organize or design the heck out of our idea to get someone to see, listen or buy. In doing so, we plan ourselves right out of our own genius, which is freely available in the moment, if we’ll step past our fear just far enough to act without a guarantee of what will happen next.
In no instance that I’ve taken such a leap, have I ever once been disappointed.
Oh, sure, my brain was screaming at me that I was going to fail, my heart was racing, and my body was charged with fear hormones (cortisol). But all this was easy to shift by simply ignoring the feedback and keeping on going.
So in my journey, I got radical about improvising. I set a target and then took the most obvious initial actions toward that goal. Very often for me this was hiring a specialist in this area (a coach) to get me up to speed—much faster than I could by bumbling around, reading a bunch of stuff and watching videos with no systematic framework
He or she would advise on wise actions, and I would take them.
And take them.
And take them some more.
No plan. No outline. No guiding principle… at least not at first.
Once I took those initial actions, I did begin to get feedback from my surroundings about what results I was getting. It quickly became apparent if my direction were getting me closer or further from my goal. Once I had that feedback, I could pivot… the smart way.
Did you ever consider the fact that your plan may not, in fact, get you anywhere close to your goal? Even if you could beat your procrastination enough to follow it to the letter, it might not get you where you want to go.
Real freedom, I found, was learning to live without a fear-imposed script.
This was something the old me literally believed she could not do. But once I discovered how free I felt and how much more interesting (and effective) the results I got were, I simply couldn’t go back.
Now, I make loose plans, take actions right away before I have time to chicken out, and then assess where I’ve gotten to, readjust my loose plan and keep going.
I don’t have any bullet journal, day planner, productivity app or wall chart. Nada. Zilch.
I follow what is now a carefully-honed internal compass, guided by God, intuition, and my assessment of the real circumstances I am living in, not some pie-in-the-sky ideal my fear keeps me busy and stuck in place creating.
When I want to do something new, I look at the first most obvious and achievable action I can take, and I take it.
Once I’ve done that, I can more capably make a flexible plan based on realistic actions.
This may not be what you want to hear, as a goal-oriented woman who struggles with fear, procrastination and self-doubt, but if you learn this skill well it will transform your life and your results.
Bottom line: if planning is a straightjacket that keeps you stuck and stalled… ditch the plan.
Cultivate the courage, confidence and commitment necessary to simply act.
Action will make the right plan very apparent, right away.
This is a skill and a process I teach in my group coaching program, 90 Days to Be a Fearless & Free.
We address and dissolve the mindsets that keep us attached to planning, deal with the bodily (hormone) responses that keep us in fight-or-flight mode, and get you taking the actions you really want to take to achieve your biggest dreams, within a safe and supportive community.
No more fear, doubt and procrastination!!
Interviews are currently open for the next cohort in the program.