As Managers we love plans. There is something heroic about a person who makes a plan and then executes it to the tee. The Self Help and the Management world wants us to believe that everyone should have a written goal and a detailed written plan to execute the goal.
The central premise behind having a written goal, is that if you are at Point A and want to go to Point B you have to know what Point B is. And even if you know what Point B is, you need to have a map to get there.
The Self Help Industry wants you to believe that writing down your goal is like defining what Point B is, and having a written plan to achieve your goal is like having a map that will help you get there. Both premises behind having a written goal and a written plan are fundamentally flawed though.
The Fallacy Of Trying To Guess What Point B Is.
Life is not as linear as travelling from Point A to Point B. When it comes to life, given Point A is where you currently are, Point B is some illusive distant reality where 'you think you may want to be'. But you invariably have no way of knowing exactly what that Point B should be.
Instagram was not a photo sharing application when they started, Twitter was not a micro blogging platform during it's inception. Steve Jobs was making blue boxes and working in Atari and trying to score acid before starting Apple. I can give you a dozen other startups which have now become household names, but had no clue of what their Point B was when they started out. A dozen hugely successful people who had no idea about what their Point B was. They didn't take out a pen and paper to write down their Point B. The stumbled upon their Point B, by continuous trial and error; some even serendipitously. By trying out different things.
When people become successful they talk in hindsight and their body language often gives us a perception that they know what they are talking about. In reality, no one knows what their Point B is.
Trying to find out exactly what your Point B is, often turns out to be an exercise in futility. Even trying to move in the general direction of Point B is a waste of time because you put in effort based on the basic assumption that you know what your Point B really is. You don't.
As an individual you can realize that there are fundamentally two states you are in. You are either diligently and mindfully moving, or mindlessly stagnant. If you are diligently moving and aiming at Point X, Y, Z and a dozen other points, you have some chance of stumbling into your very own Point B. Or you may find yourself happier at different Point Y.
Trying to constantly find out what your Point B is and then feeling dejected when you realize you made a mistake is a depressing and dangerous game to play. One in which the only people who win are self help gurus trying to sell you a book they wrote or make you see a YouTube video they made.
The Fallacy Of Having A Map.
Let's say with some divine intervention you knew exactly what your Point B was going to be, would you still be able to chalk out an exact plan and follow it to the tee?
Anyone who has tried to loose weight knows their Point B (X kilos lighter), and at some point has even made plans about loosing weight. And then life happens. Your sister decides to get married and you are feasting on delicacies. Your work pressure mounts up and you are living on takeaways. Go on, set a goal of saving Y dollars a year, and see what happens to your meticulously planned goal when Covid 19 decides to show up on this planet, your organization decides they are downsizing, your loved one needs your financial support and your taxes go up because of global recession.
When you are navigating from Point A to Point B, a map works because the roads to get to Point B are finite and they aren't changing in real time. Life on the other hand is ever changing set of situations and consequences where most of us are jumping and hopping from one shifting tectonic plate to another.
Try living in a world where the traffic rules are constantly changing, the destination itself is changing, the paths to get to the destination are changing as old paths get closed and new ones are formed in real time. Now try using a fixed paper map to navigate from Point A to Point B and we'll see how you do. That's how life usually is. The analogy of going from Point A to Point B simply doesn't work when navigating life.
So the bottom line is, there is no way for us to find out where we want to be, and literally no way for anyone to find out how they are going to get there.
Processes - The 10 Inches In Front Of You.
Like I said before, there are two states you can be in. Well intentioned deliberate motion or stagnation. So if you realize you need to lose weight because you are panting like a Labrador when you have to take a small flight of staircase, you can set yourself in deliberate motion by wearing your running shoes and going for a tiny 1K walk every single day.
No Goals of losing 10 Kilos. No Goals of running a marathon. No big talks. No discussions with relatives on how you are going to change your health. No big plans. No stupid visualizations of becoming a lean mean machine. Just a simple tiny 1K walk every single day. Day after day. Do it for a few days and lo and behold, you have what we call a process. You can have a goal in the back of your mind, but you are not constantly burdened by the psychic weight of not accomplishing that goal. All you do is get up each morning and go for a small walk.
The amazing part about processes is that when you do a 1K walk and feel good about it for a week, you can decide you want to do 2K walks, or a 1K run. But you still wear your shoes, dress up and go out every single day. Your accomplishments may be different but your process is still the same. And you don't just do it for a goal. Maybe you do it because you like the idea of getting up every day and leaving your home to go out. Maybe because you like being in nature, maybe because you like the ambience of the park you go to or maybe because walking makes you feel good. Not simply because you want to lose 10 kilos. A process happens when even if you forget about loosing those 10 Kilos you would still keep getting up and going for a walk.
The central idea of most processes is to move you from a state of stagnation to a state of deliberate motion. And once you get into that motion and enjoy that motion, directions, plans, goals can change and beautiful things can happen. From that point onwards, instead of sticking to a goal and a plan, you give serendipity a chance to change your life in real and meaningful ways without constantly bearing the stress of controlling the next 10, 15, 20 years of your life and then getting depressed when outcomes don't align with your expectations. You stop living in result oriented hustle culture and start focusing on mindful small efforts and initiatives which you can do for years without getting frustrated if the results don't show up.
There are dozens of books which cover this idea, from the Motivation Myth, Atomic Habits, How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big to Seth Godin's The Practice. The goal of all your processes collectively, is to find out what your day to day life looks like. No Goals, No Plans. Even if you have goals they are really short term goals and they often take a back seat. You set a goal and then you forget them while you work. You do remember the processes, you internalize these processes and you do engage with them, daily.
What do you do every single day after waking up? What do you do every single afternoon? Every evening? Every night before you sleep? What does your day look like? Do you have the courage to get up and move? Can you get up every day and go? Without a map? Even when you feel like crap? Even when you feel scared? Can you plan the 10 inches in front of you and trust your process to take you towards serendipity?
Of course you don't know what your Point B is or how to get there. No-one does. But true artists have the courage to draw the first stroke and then another and another and then repeat, day after day after day, because they trust their processes to shape their art; their hobbies, their side-gigs, their businesses, their projects, their work... and their lives.
Processes and actions inculcated in your day to day life are much more effective and much less stressful compared to goals and plans of trying to find and get to a Point B. This year instead of focusing on your plans and goals give your processes a chance. They might change your life. After all, life is a game of inches and your processes are all about building motion and starting to inch forward; consistently; every single day. Unlike the self help gurus, I can't promise you'll be the world's best programmer or the richest man of the world; but you might be a tad bit happier, a little more focused and a lot more balanced than you are right now.