A man, a plan…

There are (as always) two kinds of people in the world – those that plan and those who don’t. I always believed I belong to the former group, but of late I have been thinking about this a little bit.

The planners are easy to recognize. The goal known, they make meticulous lists of steps to get there, each one marked with a little milestone. They move ahead deliberately and consciously, ticking off the milestones one by one, until they arrive.

The coasters (as I shall call the other group) are a lot more ‘intuitive’ in their decision-making. They know the goal and the general direction they need to move in if they are to achieve it. And as they journey, they do not mark off milestones – instead, they only pause periodically to take an orientation, and make sure that the direction is correct. And eventually, they reach too.

The advantage of planning is that the probability of reaching is high, and if the goal is distant, or the path is complex, you are unlikely to fail if you proceed according to a plan. The disadvantage is that if the plan is wrong, you’re stuck – often inextricably. If you coast directionally, however, you can always orient yourself in a general direction and move. The disadvantage of coasting is that you have no idea how long it will take you, how far you have to go, and whether this is the best path to get there.

However, I have noticed that it is often the coasters who have the richest of life’s experiences. And it is the coasters who are flexible with their goals – their eyes open, they are able to accommodate the idea that the original goal may be less attractive than another, in a different direction.

The planners are usually more successful. The coasters are generally happier.

On a related note, Noddy and I had a conversation several years ago about endurance. At that time my level of physical fitness was almost zero, while he, football player, runner, sportsman, was the veteran of many battles of endurance. I asked him, when you run, what motivates you to reach your destination when you have gone past the point of tiredness? Do you gain strength from the vision of the end of the race and the joy of reaching, or do you gain motivation from one short milestone after another?

He said that in his case, the first time he ran a 5k was to prove a point. It was completely an ego thing about finishing. But later, the small steps became important, and while he would choose to run because of wanting to finish, after he started running it was the one step after another, the short milestones, that counted.

After I began running, I found that I could run much longer than I thought myself capable of by following a simple trick. The idea is to start counting steps, and have a target – say 100. When you come to around 90, you mentally revise your target to 120. If you set your target from 100 to 200, it doesn’t work – your mind refuses to believe it can stretch that far. But en route to 120, at about 110, you raise the target again, to 140. And so on.

But life is too short for the question to be important. Both the coasters and the planners eventually die, and in that consummation (devoutly to be wished), all goals become unimportant.

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