The internet floods dreamers with positive thinking, promising big futures, and bursting bank accounts. I get it; we want more money. We want to fulfill all our obsessively expensive dreams. It’s possible, many have done it, working their way from mediocracy, or even poverty, to riches. Those stories motivate. The other stories—the ones that are not retold—are the ones that are not so grand. Many dreams are curtailed not because of lack of vision. Most of us have magnificent dreams. Failure typically occurs in route to those dreams. We either fail to develop a workable plan or fail to do what we have planned.
I often get bashed by the positive thinking crowd, calling me, and those like me, “naysayers.” You know, I’m one of those negative thinkers that kills dreams with cold realities.
Certainly, I am pessimistic at times, overly positive at other times. I struggle with the constant hollow advice from social media warriors that boldly proclaim to know the path to riches, when their only plan for riches is to successfully lead other to riches. “Let me sell you my plan for success,” they enticingly solicit, promising effortless flows of money. We soon discover they only can offer retreads of positive thinking, sprinkled with internet marketing strategies. Unimpressively, their magnificent plan for success is selling “their plan for success.”
Please, don’t get me wrong. A positive mindset is essential—an indispensable asset. We must dream, hope, and believe. These positive thinking staples motivate and inspire. Positive thinking pushes us forward when failure looms and setbacks cripple. Only through positive mindsets can we resilient travel the dusty paths of the present, leading to the flowering fields of our dreams.
Positive Mindsets are Not Enough
Positive mindsets are fabulous. They’re easy to encapsulate in a quote, picture or short article. They provide very little facts, data, or research. Motivators just rattle off familiar, feel-good slop to feed those hungry for success.
Success, however, is not simple. Success implies success in something. And each something has its own rules to achieve it. A workable plan identifies the particular steps necessary to achieve the particular success we desire. We can’t just travel any dusty path; we must travel a dusty path headed in the right direction.
See Realistic Optimism for more on this topic
Unfortunately, I have dreamed, set goals, and failed—many times. I’m a bona fide expert in the failure field. We all have patterns of failure—and success. These patterns are invaluable, providing warning signs and encouragement.
My pattern of failure was accurately portrayed by Goncalo Hoshi in his article on planning for success:
- An ambitious goal;
- A vague plan;
- Enthusiastic and wasted energy
The eventual downfall:
- Start to dread the work;
- Begin to slack;
- Quit all together with ego protecting excuses (2020).
During my time as a personal fitness trainer, I would consistently see this pattern every January as dreamers flooded the gym with hopes of dramatically changing their lives.
Why Do We Need a Plan?
We are habitual time wasters. When difficult work is to be done, we unconsciously slip into doing non-essential crap. Without a writing plan, I spend too much time on social media, reformatting old articles, and rearranging my website, skipping the foundational research and writing that drives Psychology Fanatic’s success. Why? Because writing demands more brainpower, and I’m lazy. An effective plan exposes the time-wasting behaviors and directs attention to the more important tasks.
An effective plan focusses attention on essential work by:
- Providing clear direction
- Minimizing distractions
- Preventing mindless wandering
- Forcing accountability (2018)
Common Elements of Workable Plans
Whether our goal is early retirement, successful recovery, or buying a house, a successful plan includes some common elements. If we implement these elements, our chances of success increase dramatically.
Success Oriented Mindset
Yes. After all my qualifications and down playing of positive mindsets, I went and listed it as the primary ingredient for success.
”Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”~Langston Hughes
We can’t achieve anything unless we first can conceive it. An optimistic mindset believes we can obtain our goal, flexibly adjusts to setbacks, and believes we possess the strength to succeed.
See Self Determination Theory for more on this topic
Clarity of Goal
Vague goals are failure waiting to happen. They are easy to justify out of existence. We can’t rely on overly simplistic ideals to motivate:
- Be healthy
- Succeed at work
- Improve relationship
- Do good in school
Ideals are fabulous starting points. They may be the burning desire that gives life to a specific goal and a workable plan.
We can write down these ideals and why they are meaningful. As we expand on these thoughts, the desires begin to root and we can set goals within those domains.
We can easily break down the desire into a concrete goal.
- Be healthy
- Lose weight
- Lose thirty pounds
- Lose thirty pounds by June
- Lose thirty pounds
- Lose weight
Losing thirty pounds by June provides sufficient clarity to devise a workable plan that has higher probability of success.
Jenny Garrett proposes structuring goals in a clear action-oriented format.
- I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION] (2020).
- I will work on my resume every workday from 5-6 in my study.
Breaking down goals in sizable chunks helps clarify which behaviors will fulfill our desired goal. As we complete the current step, we need to redefine the next behaviors that moves us closer to our goal.
Goals Must Be Realistic
Realistic goals largely are determined by the individual. A realistic goal for one may not be realistic for another, given talents, resources, and circumstances. Contrary to New Age philosophy, there are some limits to our human potential.
Many of us sadly place restrictive limits on what we can achieve; However, this doesn’t imply there are no limits. We love the inspiring stories of those that succeed against the odds. Yet, there are many untold stories of failures. People whose dreams crashed against the unforgiving rocks of reality.
There are no workable plans for achieving the unachievable.
Plan Must be Workable
A workable plan is a plan that incorporates steps that move towards goal attainment. We can have an achievable goal but have no idea what steps to move us from where we are to where we want to be.
If we are doing all the wrong stuff, our goal will never materialize. Often experts in the field f our goal can share their wisdom, pointing us in the right direction.
New business ventures often include production, finances, and marketing plans. Complicated paths to success in complex domains don’t have the luxury to naturally develop through trial and error, misadventures may prove too costly for budgets and resolve to surmount.
We can prevent many of these disasters with preparation. Seeking knowledge from qualified experts. Knowledge is essential. Sometimes knowledge must be bought by hiring an expert, sometimes we gain knowledge through our own research and experience.
Plan Must Be Flexible
No plan is perfect. The more complex the objective the more modifications a plan needs once it is put in motion. Elements we overlooked, unanticipated events, and menacing interference from outside factors surprise and disrupt.
We can blame, justify and fail or adjust. We must be flexible. Structure is great—but only to a point. Unfortunately, the world is fluid, moving in many unpredictable ways. Flexibility is the answer to these continuous sways.
We can adjust to unforeseen changes through:
- Reflection. Reflection is a valuable tool to assess what is working—and what is not. Jim Rohn calls it ““running the tapes again” (2015). Reflection burns lessons into our memories. Instead of a blur of complexity, we see patterns to organize the madness.
- Keeping a Journal. I’m amazed by how much I forget. We experience vast lessons that can bless with untold wisdom. Yet, we forget, and move on, only to make the same errors later. Keep a journal. A journal becomes a portal to wisdom—a means to harness experience.
- Seeking Objective Advice. We get pulled into the emotions of the daily workings and miss the obvious. Sometimes, we must reach out for objective advice from paid professionals or experts in similar fields.
Paul Dolan wrote, “0ptimism research teaches us that we should expect the best and have a contingency plan for the worst” (2015). We need back up plans. We can’t be a naïve optimist, believing the universe will serve success on a silver platter.
Best laid plans falter. We need contingencies in place to rescue shattered expectations. For the recovering addict putting a contingency plan in place, may prevent a slip from becoming a full-blown relapse.
How do we respond if we don’t meet our production deadline, what shall I do if I blow my diet at the party, how can I respond to overspending. Yes, we fail. Failure isn’t the concern; failing to respond to failures is where disaster occurs.
Jim Rohn wrote, “what separates the successful from the unsuccessful so many times is that the successful simply do it. They take action” (2015).
It all boils down to action—not a one time push but continual effort, working towards our goal. Are we achieving what we set out to achieve? If not, then it is time to take action.
Often, our first response to failure is to reengage with the same plan, “only this time,” we say to ourselves, “I will do better.” Perhaps, it’s not a matter of willpower but a structural problem with our plan—something isn’t compatible with our strengths, environment and resources. Our plan isn’t workable, at least for us.
Perhaps, the internet warriors, promising change, and lifelong happiness are correct—we can enjoy our dreams, find peace, and live out our desires. But we will only achieve these wonderful dreams with a workable plan, wisely moving us forward from one step to the next. So go ahead, identify those dreams, construct a workable plan, and flourish.
Cardone, G. (2018). Your Odds of Succeeding Improve When You Create a Success Plan. Entrepreneur. Published 6-14-2018. Accessed 5-20-2021.
Dolan, P. (2015). Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think. Plume; Illustrated edition.
Garrett, J. (2020). The only tip you need to Plan for a Successful Future. Jenny Garrett. Published 1-8-2020. Accessed 5-26-2021.
Hoshi, G. (2020). How To Plan For Success — 5 Steps. Medium. Published 1-5-2020. Accessed 5-20-2021.
Rohn, J. (2015). Rohn: It Only Takes 6 Steps to Plan Your Success. Success. Published 12-27-2-15. Retrieved 5-26-2015.