Lifestyle Mindfulness

5 Ways the “Planner” Mindset Can Rob Us of Joy

I’m a planner by nature.  Structure, order, and a well-thought-out plan brings me peace of mind.

For me, there is something so comforting in having an objectively set goal and a strategic plan with action steps intended to draw me closer to reaching such goal. I like knowing that if I put in the hard work and dedication to accomplish “XYZ” I will achieve the desired outcome.

Planning and setting goals can be very useful and result in positive outcomes in life.

However, as with anything, if taken to an extreme, I’ve also found that a “planner” mindset may become toxic.  This “planner” wiring and desire for structure can lead to “black and white” thinking, which can rob one of the ability to be spontaneous or flexible.  It may also cause one to fear uncertainty, potentially driving one to need to feel as if he or she is in control of the present or future outcomes.

The Good

For me personally, planning and setting goals has been very helpful in my efforts to accomplish goals and maintain focus on what I want to accomplish in my life.

For example, it’s encouraged the dedication and motivation for me to intentionally put forth my best effort to achieve academic success.  Strategic planning has also helped me achieve success in my career by meeting (and often exceeding) performance expectations.

Setting goals and planning has also helped me outside of the realm of school/work.  It’s helped me in my personal life and relationships with others as well.

For example, having a scheduled time dedicated for a morning routine along with planned-out activities I want to accomplish has helped me increase mindfulness and grow in my relationships with God.

Knowing that Sean and I both value travel and exposing ourselves to other perspectives/cultures has helped us plan our finances and time accordingly to allow us to experience wonderful trips around the world.

Planning dinner parties, trips, or get-togethers with my friends and family members have lead to deeper connections and cherished memories.

Investing in my community is very important to me: by intentionally shopping at the same grocery store and refueling my caffeine needs at the coffee shop near our house has allowed me to not only support local businesses, but also invest in and develop relationships with the individuals I interact with on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis.

There are so many additional examples I could share to illustrate how having a strategic plan can lead to amazing benefits and achievements.

However, I’ve also stumbled upon a few major flaws with the “strategic planner” mindset.

The Bad

As I mentioned above, anything (even a good thing), if taken to the extreme, can become toxic.  The following list outlines 5 ways I’ve seen how the “planner” mindset can rob us of joy in our lives.

#1: It leads to a false sense of control.

The more we succeed in setting goals and achieving desired outcomes through self-discipline, it can lead us to think that the outcomes of life are in our own hands.  “If I do ‘XYZ,’ I will achieve success.”

Yes, planning is a wonderful tool that can help a person accomplish certain goals.

Yes, I think it’s important to be ambitious and strategic about “what matters most” in life: setting goals and tactically orchestrating plans to set yourself up for success.

But as much as we like to think that we can control the events and outcomes of life, we will never have control over all things.

Life’s unpredictable, life’s messy.  Sometimes things will happen in life that are out of our control.  There’s no amount of “planning” that can help us avoid certain outcomes.

#2: It creates an environment wherein “self” can easily become the center of one’s universe.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that planners are not philanthropic.  In fact, it is often “planners” who help lead the charge in the realization of charitable success and positive change in our world.

However, I’ve also seen how the achievement of success through dedication and planning can lead us to become very self-involved.

First, it can cause us to think that success is solely a result of our own efforts (failing to acknowledge our God-given gifts and abilities and/or the help or mentorship received from others to help us accomplish our goals).

Second, more success can also lead certain individuals to have a scarcity mindset, wherein the success of others is to their detriment. An “if he/she wins, I lose” kind of mindset.

This can cause certain individuals to have a lazer-focus on what they need to do in order to achieve success for themselves: sometimes “using” people and certain connections to their advantage in order to climb the ladder and/or forgetting about the relationships that may be impacted in the wake of one’s striving for (or even achieving) “success.”

This kind of scarcity mindset can also affect our ability to collaborate with and celebrate in the success of others.  Being consumed by one’s ego and/or being blinded to the fact that we are all connected as a whole “collective one” in this life together can be very lonely.  It can also result in an insatiable hunger for continued success: a hunger that can never be truly satisfied, as the bar is always on the rise and there is always someone more successful.

#3: It can impede spontaneity.

For the planners out there, I can totally relate to how structured and planned fun can bring such satisfaction and joy.

I mean, how great is it when you plan a surprise party, for example, and it goes off without a hitch and exactly as (or even BETTER than) planned?!  AMAZING!

Yet still, I’ve found that there is so much joy to be had in the spontaneous moments of life.

Like deciding to go out for dinner with a loved one after a long day so you can escape the need of having to plan or do one more thing that day.

Or leaving the dirty dishes in the sink to allow you to soak in the beautiful sunshine post-dinner.

Or those unexpected (and rare) surprises from your loved one, such as a last minute weekend get-away.

Or waking up to a foggy Saturday morning and deciding to forego your original plans in order to take a trip “over the bridge” (e.g., to Sausalito or wine country) so you can escape the blanket of cold fog surrounding SF (for those who are SF residents – I’m sure you can relate!).

I’ve found incredible benefits from welcoming unplanned moments into my life and also allowing life to “get a bit messy.” 

Not everything needs to be planned, orderly, and thought-out.  There’s such freedom and joy that can result in letting go of the need to “control” the events of life and/or breaking out of the usual structure of a given day/week.

Here are a few ideas:

If you’re a planner, perhaps consider using your skills to plan some “unplanned” time to do what you need or want in that very moment.

Or schedule a day for “planned chaos” to live the day in spontaneity.  Perhaps even consider inviting your  friend(s) or family member(s) to join you or allow them to take reigns over the events of the day.

Or break up your “weeknight” routine to do something fun (by yourself or with others) on a “school night.” 😉

Structure is great for many; but I truly believe spontaneity can bring joy to each and every one of us if we are willing to welcome it into our lives – even those who may initially cringe at the thought of being spontaneous! 🙂

#4: It can ruffle feathers when things don’t go as planned.

My, oh my – how I can relate to this one.

For so many years, I would completely come undone if things didn’t go exactly according to my plan.  In my mind, things NEEDED to be a certain way.

For example, planning parties at our house used to be incredibly stressful.  I used to stress myself out, thinking that everything had to be perfect. A clean and orderly house, a perfectly thought-out menu (everything homemade, of course), a planned itinerary, sometimes even a theme and corresponding decorations to boot.

Man, just thinking about how I used to approach get-togethers in the years past stresses me out. 

Best case scenario: even if things went “according to plan,” I was often left feeling depleted, rather than energized, because it was physically and emotionally demanding and draining.  Honestly, it could at times feel more like a “performance” than a reinvigorating experience with family/friends.

The more-likely scenario: something would go wrong and not according to my well-thought-out plan.  The dessert comes out burnt, a guest excessively indulges in adult beverages, someone spills a glass of wine on a new rug, someone accidentally sits in a pie placed on a stool that had previously served as his chair (haha – this literally happened to us a few Thanksgivings ago). Or some other “catastrophic” mishap… which would often turn me into a Tasmanian Devil stress-tornado.  Perhaps not externally; but at the very least, I’d find myself caught up in my “fix-it” mindset or anxious over all the things that were going wrong, rather than remaining engaged and with the friends and family surrounding me.  The opportunity for connection that the very intention for the gathering, was often lost in an effort to have the “perfect” event.

Today, our “get-togethers” look a whole lot different.

Today, the focus is not on having the “perfect” party or showing off how great of a hostess I can be.  Rather, the focus is on creating a welcoming environment wherein wonderful conversations and deep connections can be shared.

Today, there’s allowance for the unpredictable, disorder, and unplanned. Today, it’s even welcomed – for the mishaps are often those that make the best stories and create lasting memories.

It’s okay if the dessert is not homemade, it’s okay if the laundry is hanging up and not put away in its “proper” place, it’s okay if the meal doesn’t show off my best culinary skills.

It’s okay if everything’s not “perfect” or “to the best of my hostess abilities.”

An unstressed Rachael is able to be a genuine and connected Rachael who embraces the present moment and enjoy life with those around her.

If we are focused on investing in the time spent with others (what’s actually important) rather than manufacturing the perfect circumstances for them; then unplanned and unexpected mishaps can happen without causing us to fly off the handle.

#5: It can cause us to remain intently focused on the future, stealing from our ability to experience joy in the present.

If we’re always striving and focused on what we want to accomplish in the future, we can sometimes miss out on the blessings that surround us in the “here and now.”

It can cause us to never be truly satisfied with what we currently have, because there is always more to be had.

One weekend this past September while Sean and I were out to dinner in Charleston, I was awakened to how my “planner” mindset was threatening to rob me of the gift of the present.  We were sitting together in a beautiful setting (a gorgeous summer evening at dusk, beautiful glowing bulbed lights overhead creating a romantic atmosphere, the soft chirping of crickets breaking through the quiet of the night) and enjoying a beautifully presented coursed meal with flavors that would be nearly impossible for me to recreate at home.

And yet, my desire to plan broke into our enjoyment of the “now” as I questioned “so what do you want to do after this?”

As soon as the words escaped my lips, I interrupted the question that remained unanswered and told Sean, “never mind, forget that I asked that – let’s just enjoy our time together now, and we can think about later later.”

The planner mindset is constantly thinking “what’s next?”  Which can be a good thing.  But it can also lead to the constant focus of what’s up ahead, creating blinders to the joyful moments to be had in the present moment.

* * * * *

I encourage you to plan away; but do so in moderation.

Personally, I love to plan.

I think that is an innate part of who I am and will always be an approach I tend to lean toward in life.

However, I have learned that planning can only bring me so far, and there are many pitfalls of which I need to be aware.

What has been incredibly helpful for me is maintaining an awareness of the various shortcomings of “planning” – such as those listed above, to name a few.

Also, in my planning out life goals and various other life events, I like to involve those I respect and love the most – such as God, Sean, family, friends, mentors, and other loved ones.  Involving others helps me gain perspective and consider certain blindspots to which I am not privy or cannot see for myself.  It also keeps my ego in check: reminding that my life is not all about me, and I am not the meant to be the center of my own universe.

Furthermore, I like to do my best to hold onto my plans loosely, revisit them occasionally to question if they need tweaking, and allow detours as needed.  Rather than “solidified plans” – I think of them as “tentative plans” that guide me, but may require updating (or entire reworking) as life progresses and/or as instructed by God.

To those planners out there – plan away!

I don’t want to discourage you from doing so.  But I do encourage you to bring awareness and mindfulness to your planning, so you can avoid some of the traps to which a “planned” life can fall victim.

Also keep in mind:

“Life’s best moments usually happen unplanned.” – Annonymous

You Might Also Like...

No Comments

    Leave a Reply