Plans and goals are helpful. At work and at home, good plans enable structure, direction, and coordination. But some of the best things in life can happen because you formulate a plan and then decide―at some point―to let it go, leaving space to modify expectations and create new experiences.
Often “success” can look different than we originally envisioned. In fact, staying with an existing plan can close us off to new insights, experiences, and opportunities. Research shows that people who are less open to new experiences often take longer to make meaningful improvements in their lives.
“We are naturally risk avoidant, which can keep us stuck, and this shuts down our ability to flex in times of uncertainty and change,” says Alanna Fincke, senior vice president at meQuilibrium, as well as a resilience expert and certified health coach. “However, there are proven ways to work around this and dramatically increase our ability to be open-minded, flexible, and believe in ourselves.”
Here are three insights on how to be more flexible and open:
1. Modify your expectations.
It’s okay to define what success will look and feel like, but it’s also okay not to get there right away or to get to a different outcome. Last year, I started writing a weekly email newsletter. I set an aspirational goal of publishing 100 consecutive editions and gaining more than 1,000 subscribers. In retrospect, the consistent part has gone well: I haven’t missed a week. But as issue 100 approaches, I expect to fall short of the 1,000 subscriber mark.
Still, it has felt worthwhile. I’ve learned about digital publishing and have had a lot of fun, and I’m connecting with people. The more I focus on the process, the more enjoyable and sustainable the practice becomes. Perhaps the scale and audience numbers will come later. By modifying your expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised at what plays out.
Tip: Visualization is a powerful tool for helping reach your goals, whatever they may be. You can visualize your success with this meditation.
2. Don’t be afraid to go slowly.
Most things worth pursuing take time, and progress rarely looks linear. So patience is vital. “Lack of patience is the number one reason people give up and don’t reach their goals,” says Fincke. “We often expect immediate results and give up before starting or just as we’re about to see real progress.”
With exercise, I have come to see the value of endurance training. Earlier in life, I would always run hard and get it done quickly. I was proud of my fast times. But I’m now seeing the benefits of long, slow runs. They help me spend time outside in nature, where I can reflect and clear my mind. I can go fast. Or slow. I can take breaks, or walk, if needed. My goal is simply to finish the route.
Tip: To become comfortable with moving at a slower pace, think about the smaller steps that will help you reach the bigger goal. Use this activity to help you make a plan to take small steps.
3. Clarify your values and motivations.
When you articulate your “why,” and know your personal values and motivations, new paths will usually reveal themselves. And you’ll be able to identify them when they appear.
For example, a friend of mine who loves cooking thought that she might someday want to become a professional chef and open a restaurant. But after working in multiple restaurants in many different roles, she realized that she didn’t like the related business responsibilities. She does find joy, however, in bringing people together, preparing food, and entertaining guests―it’s where she shines. So instead, she regularly hosts casual gatherings at her apartment for small groups of friends and family, and she cooks for them.
Before letting go of an old plan, first reflect on why you chose it in the first place, and why it might no longer be serving you. As you formulate next steps, keep asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” The intrinsic motivation in your answers will provide fuel for the ongoing journey, even as the outcomes, goalposts, and metrics naturally shift.
Tip: Writing down your thoughts can help clarify your motivations. Use this activity to help you identify what motivates you. Then identify the character traits you value most and learn how to embody them in your everyday life with this skill.