Let’s Talk About… Planning

By Jeremy Godwin

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing. 

Today I’m talking about how to approach planning in a thoughtful and mindful way — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 9 January, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 113, and thanks so much for joining me!

This week I’m talking about planning and I’ll be covering what planning is (and what it isn’t), why it matters and how to plan in a healthy way. 

Before I begin, a quick reminder that I’m asking you to become a supporter of my show via Patreon in order to help me keep on providing content each week here on the podcast and on YouTube. For just a few dollars a month you’ll help me to cover the rising costs associated with putting out my work each week, and for a few dollars extra you can also access exclusive bonus content including monthly video updates where I share a preview of what is coming up here and on YouTube in the month ahead plus you can submit your questions about better mental health and wellbeing which I will answer in the same video! Help me to keep my show ad-free by becoming a supporter now at patreon.com/jeremygodwin (and you’ll find the link in the episode description and the transcript, as well as at my website letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au).

So, with that covered, let’s talk about planning!

Introduction

I am, for the most part, fairly open-ended about planning my life and even my work (and I’ll talk about the pros and cons of that in a little bit) but, surprisingly, that doesn’t mean I’m laidback; oh no! In fact my partner would very likely describe me as quite uptight when it comes to planning; for example, any time we travel I have our day-by-day itinerary planned out at least a month in advance (more like two or three) and that includes having all of our accommodation fully booked (after spending several weeks doing very thorough research to find the best options for our needs); one of my friends once told me about their trip to Europe where nothing had been booked, and I nearly fainted in horror. 

So how can someone like me — a person with a pathological need to have some specific aspects of their life planned down to the micro detail — also be the same person who only has broad goals they’re working towards in the future for work and home? No idea! I am complex and I have many layers, like both onions and Shrek.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think there is a ‘perfect’ state one way or the other, and I think a lot of it comes down to working out what your preferences are and leaning into them, while also gently (or not-so-gently) pushing yourself beyond the limits of what you’re comfortable with, because in order to grow we need to break outside of the ordinary.

So let’s go through some definitions and let’s talk about…

What planning is (and what it isn’t)

Planning is, quite simply, the act of making a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something, or setting an intention or reaching a decision about what you are going to do, either generally or in relation to a specific goal or focus (and that definition was adapted from the Oxford Dictionary). What planning isn’t, however, is a guaranteed set of actions or an absolute-set-in-stone blow-by-blow account of what is (or isn’t) going to happen, because it misses out on one important factor: the variability of the world in general. Things change, and as a result our priorities change which means that we need to adapt or modify our plans based on the new circumstances (and that’s something I’ll be exploring in more detail in a little bit; first, back to the definition piece).

In short, planning is a road map of how you’re going to make something happen.

That map analogy is a good one because there are a whole bunch of variables that we need to consider when planning for any type of journey, short or long. What mode of transport are we using? Which direction will we take? How long do we expect the trip to take us? What specific steps (or turns) do you need to take to reach your destination? How heavy do we expect traffic to be? Are there expected obstacles along the way that we’ll need to factor in? What alternative course can we take if there is an unexpected obstacle, like a traffic jam or accident? These are just seven of the many hundreds (and even thousands) of questions that can go through our minds while we’re busy organising and arranging whatever it is that we’re trying to do, regardless of whether that’s a trip to a new location or if it’s a specific outcome you’re planning to achieve in your life.

Planning is a very popular topic and there seems to be an entire industry that has popped up over the past few years focused on tools and resources to help us make more efficient and effective plans for how we’re going to utilise our time and, by extension, how we’re going to achieve all of the goals and dreams that we have. Search for the word ‘planning’ on YouTube, the world’s second-biggest search engine (after the all-powerful Google), and you’ll get more than 544 million videos in the search results (based on a search I ran using TubeBuddy in December 2021)… and I’d say it’s fair to assume that the topic is going to just continue to grow and grow and grow, such is our fascination with trying to plan for the future.

But why? Why are we so obsessed with planning? I mean, the obvious answer is ‘control’, because we want to be able to control the way that our future turns out… which is a great way to turn your dreams into reality but is also, at the same time, a bit of a futile exercise in a broad sense — which I’ll explore in a minute. But beyond control, I think a lot of the appeal of planning is about trying to create a greater sense of security and certainty for ourselves in a very uncertain world… I mean, at the end of 2019 none of us could ever have known what was coming our way (let alone the fact that we’d still be dealing with it in 2022), so I can most definitely understand the appeal of planning in terms of trying to feel a bit more secure and in control of your own destiny!

For anyone dealing with mental health challenges or simply wanting to improve their overall sense of wellbeing, planning is an absolute necessity in the sense that it brings balance and consideration into your choices; however it also requires two other key ingredients to be successful: patience and flexibility… and I’ll explain that a bit more in a moment. Before I do, let’s talk about…

Why planning matters

And it matters because making plans for how you are going to achieve your goals and dreams serves to give you hope and something to aim for, because otherwise it can feel more like we’re just existing instead of truly living. And it’s also about consciously planning for how you will deal with the unexpected, because if there is one thing you can guarantee will happen in the future it’s that something unexpected will pop up and throw you for a loop!

Let me give you a recent example. I’m actually recording this episode in mid December (that’s me planning ahead so I can be a lot more organised in 2022!) and the last couple of weeks have been very challenging. I talked about this recently in a video about worry on my YouTube channel (and it’s linked in the episode description), but to cut a long story short in late November our cat, Igor, had been unwell for a few days and then quickly recovered, so we thought everything was fine… until the 9th of December when he became really sick, really fast. I was panicked and within 24 hours I had to rush him to the vet, and lucky I did because he needed emergency surgery to fix a severe bladder blockage and infection (and when I say ‘severe’ I mean it; later on the vet said he wouldn’t have made it much longer as his condition deteriorated very fast). I’m recording this on December 20 and he’s been back home for a few days now, recuperating nicely and regaining his strength (which I am very grateful for). When it all happened I had a number of meetings lined up as well as an interview I was giving on another podcast, and I had to quickly change all of my plans so I could deal with what was going on (I’m sure any other pet parents out there will know what I’m talking about when I describe the absolute state I was in while all this was going on). 

Is there a point in all this? I have no idea! No, actually, there is. The point I am making is that planning matters in terms of giving yourself a sense of direction, but it also requires you to find a balanced approach because uncertainty in life is inevitable. Why? Because the future is both unknown and unknowable, and you can never plan for every possible eventuality (trying to do so will just cripple you with worry, something I talked about in Episode 95). It really is a delicate juggling act: too much planning and you’re setting yourself up for failure, too little planning and you’re also setting yourself up for failure! And that’s where the whole ‘pros and cons’ thing I mentioned earlier comes into play… planning is a good thing, because it gives us direction, but it can also be a damaging thing if we’re too rigid and inflexible about our plans.

Finding the balance is the foundation of healthy planning, because it is about finding the middle ground between too much planning versus too little.

So how do you find that balance? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…

How to plan in a healthy way

So, there are two broad messages I’m going to be getting across in this section: planning in general, and also planning for your wellbeing. I believe both need to be considered but I’m not going to single out one over the other (because they’re both important and interconnected), so other than me saying the odd bit about planning for your wellbeing then please be aware that the overarching messages in this section are about both of those broad elements of planning. So, let’s begin with… 

Start by reflecting — and no real surprises here, because it’s a piece of advice that I give a lot! Start by considering what is working in your life and what is not, so that you can identify where you might need to focus your attention. This isn’t an excuse to roast yourself; instead, I’m asking you to do this in a kind, objective and non-judgemental way. We all have opportunities for development; it’s just about whether or not we realise it and admit it to ourselves (and, even more importantly, whether or not we actually choose to do something about it!). A good way to do this is with my next point… 

Think about what you want to achieve (and why) — it’s a worthwhile exercise to take some time for yourself every now and then to consider what it is that you really, really want (so that you can tell me what you want, what you really really want… hello, Spice Girls!). Now, assuming that you would like more out of life than to simply zig-a-zig-ah (yep, I managed to work another Spice Girls line in… it’s a talent), this is about considering where you are headed and why. It’s the ‘why’ bit that really matters; I mean, if you don’t know why you’re doing something (or want to do something) then, honestly, what’s the point?! The other bit here is to recognise that you may have 50 million things you want to achieve, and that’s totally fine, however I want to encourage you to consider which ones are of the highest priority and more aligned with the vision you have for yourself in the future (as well as your values). Which leads nicely into the next point…

Refine your list into 2-3 high-level focus areas for the next year — look, you can plan for whatever period of time you like (and I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do), however my advice is that focusing on one year at a time (with one eye on how that is leading you towards longer-term hopes and aspirations) will give you a healthy balance between planning too much and planning too little. A year is a decent amount of time to achieve some major changes without being such a long period that it means success seems like a galaxy far, far away. I suggest two to three main focus areas here are worthwhile because it’s enough that it makes it interesting (and challenging), while not being too much to then overwhelm you or make things too complicated (as I said in Episode 63, simplicity can go a long way towards creating good mental health!). It might be helpful to consider it from this perspective: identify one key focus for your work or career, one focus area for your external world (such as your relationships with others), and one for your internal world (like your own self development and personal growth). I say ‘focus area’ instead of ‘goal’ because I think goals are very specific and don’t necessarily speak to the intention of what it is that we’re trying to achieve and why, whereas a ‘focus area’ can be a good reminder of your broad intentions. For example, my focus for my work in 2022 is to have a profitable and sustainable business that helps people, while at the same time having fun with what I do and how I do it. So, how do you know what to focus on? Great question, and that’s why my next point is… 

Consider what will make you feel more aligned — and by this I mean what is going to contribute to your sense of satisfaction and quality of life (which I talked about in Episode 110, about satisfaction). For example, I’ve talked openly many times on this show about the fact that I used to work in the business world and it reached a point where I just absolutely hated it (and I don’t use the word ‘hate’ lightly!); for me, it was at odds with what mattered most to me in terms of feeling like I’m actually helping people and doing so in a way that feels authentic to me. That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve those things in the corporate world (because you can) but it just means that, over time, I changed and eventually it wasn’t the right fit for me anymore so I needed to change direction. Think about what feels right to you and let that steer you to explore different options so you can figure out what feels most connected with the type of life you want to live. Which leads into my next point…

Think about how you want to feel — you can measure success in lots of different ways (which I covered in Episode 74, about success) but realistically speaking most so-called measures of success are nothing more than numbers on a page. Numbers are fine but the problem is that they are completely out of your direct control, which is why you’ll often hear YouTubers and podcasters referring to ‘vanity metrics’ like subscribers or plays; they’re nice to look at but they don’t really mean much, and since they rely on external factors it can be all-too-easy to get caught in a cycle of trying to please others rather than focusing on what matters most to you. The same goes in the world of business: yes, achieving 125% of target might seem great, but do you feel good about yourself and what you had to do to achieve that? Is it sustainable? Maybe it is, I don’t know, but at the very least take some time to ask yourself those questions (which really goes back to my earlier point about considering what you want to achieve and why). So, with that in mind, think about what it is that you want to feel (such as feeling fulfilled or purposeful or whatever it is for you) and let that be your guide. Continuing that thought, my next point is… 

Consider what is within your control — a healthy approach to planning is one where you look at the things you want to achieve and then identify what is specifically within your direct control; in other words, what can you do or say to create the outcome you desire. Everything else cannot be controlled by you (and that includes other people!) so you cannot accurately predict what will or will not happen, meaning that you need to be prepared to adapt to things as they change. I talked about control in more detail back in Episode 48 so you may find that helpful to review for more on the subject. That leads to my next point… 

Consider what you can remove or reduce from your life — because sometimes the most effective plans are more about how to simplify your life by removing complications or difficult situations (or difficult relationships, for that matter), since that can then free up your headspace for other things while also creating a greater sense of calm (which is a topic that I explored in Episode 103). 

Alright, so now I’m going to guide you through a few steps on how to actually turn an idea into a more tangible plan and set of outcomes, starting with…

Turn your plans into specific achievements you’re working on — so by this I mean to be really specific and detailed about the what, why and how of what you’re doing (as well as the ‘by when’), in order to help you become crystal-clear on what needs to be done. That is then an important part of the next step, which is…

Break your plan or goal down into smaller chunks — this is about identifying each step and working out a detailed plan that is broken down from yearly to quarterly, from quarterly to monthly, from monthly to weekly, and then from weekly to daily. For example, I have talked about how I have been working on losing weight (through changing my diet and also working with a therapist to address the root causes of my emotional eating); rather than setting a specific number to drop my weight by over a year or whatever, I’m focused on daily and weekly eating plans that roll up into a monthly review of my progress and, if I stay on track each month, then I can have one treat per month. Yes I know it sounds restrictive (but trust me, it’s one of the only things that really works for me because I’m not great with moderation) but when you think about, a month is only 4-4.5 weeks so those smaller chunks of time feel less daunting than if I were to look at it over a year or whatever. Anyway, the point here is to take your plan and break it down into the smallest possible pieces so that you can do a little often — which leads to my next point…

Small steps are still steps — because when you do a little every day or every week, it adds up over time to deliver big results. Don’t overextend yourself and be realistic about who you are and where you’re at; if you don’t like to run, then doing a marathon next weekend just isn’t realistic. Instead, work your way up to it a little at a time over a longer period. The outcome is still the same, even if it takes a little bit longer, and doing it that way will usually lead to a more sustainable result in the long term. OK, next…

However long you think you need, double it — I previously touched on the point that “you cannot accurately predict what will or will not happen” and so, because of that, I highly recommend giving yourself breathing space by allowing extra time to achieve specific things you might be planning for. Why? Because it gives you a buffer for all the stuff that can just pop up out of nowhere and which will inevitably compete for your attention, and if you don’t end up really needing the extra time then you can get things done earlier than expected! Alright, my next point is…

Have a Plan B — because planning requires a high degree of flexibility and adaptability, since you never know what may change in the future, so always think a couple of steps ahead and consider alternate options in case one part of your plan doesn’t work out as you had hoped; remember that failure is not the end of the world and it’s simply an opportunity to learn (something I covered in Episode 84 about failure).

And last but not least, get support — because you don’t need to have all of the answers, and it’s OK to ask for help with stuff. I talked about my high-level business goal for 2022 earlier and to make that happen I work with a coach who is helping me to look at things from an outsider’s perspective, which has been hugely beneficial. Even if you just chat to someone you know and trust, gaining support from other people can help you to see things you might not have considered and it can also help to keep you motivated to achieve whatever it is that you’re working towards.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to planning and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: How you plan to create the future that you want for yourself is totally up to you, but at the very least do take the time to work through what direction you’re heading in and what you want to achieve over the coming months and years. Doing so helps to motivate you and it creates a sense of hope and excitement for the future, which can serve to propel you forward through even the darkest of times. 

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Mark Twain, and it is:

“Plan for the future because that’s where you are going to spend the rest of your life.”

Mark Twain

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about fulfilment. I was watching a video on YouTube recently by Simon Sinek, the writer and speaker, where he was talking about how ridiculous it is that we think loving our jobs should be something special, when in fact doing work that makes us feel fulfilled should be the norm. That quote got my attention and the topic of fulfilment in what we do for work is one that I am very interested in; I recently talked about general life satisfaction (in Episode 110) and I think it’s important to take that discussion further in terms of work and fulfilment… so that’s what I’m covering next time. I’ll be talking about what fulfilment is, why fulfilment matters and how to feel more fulfilled in whatever you do for a living. 

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 16th of January, 2022. And on Wednesday you’ll also find another brand-new episode of Better Mental Health landing on YouTube (so take a moment to subscribe to my channel using the link in the episode description) or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for my weekly newsletter (and my website is also linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).

And, as always, find me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth where I post extra content daily.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

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