When planning becomes a crutch – The woes of reaction and inaction

Common:Stuck on first base with a sense that the outcome of the game is entirely out of your control.

Uncommon:“I will start working on my career goals once I get my degree.”  “When I have more experience I will begin.”  “I’m waiting for the right time.”

Some people have difficultly discerning a determinant from an excuse.  The preceding comments are excuses, as are most explanations we assert.  Humans are masters of deception, especially self-deception.  Unfortunately, most of us first believe our own negative propaganda before objectively seeking facts and the result is often inaction.  After some thought we will notice that the majority of excuses connote intentions of waiting for “more appropriate” or “better” circumstances.  This, of course, is a very costly fallacy.

It pains me to see so many people accept inaction under the guise of “planning” and “preparation.”  With time, planning shifts from an important and valuable action step to its opposite: a stall tactic.  It is very true… the world suffers from a serious lack of “do-ers.”

After speaking to a college business class, a student approached me for some advice.  He explained that he was tweaking his business plan.  “How long have you been working on it?” I asked.  “6 years,” he said.  My response was a shorthand version of this article.

My experience tells me that there are no “perfect” circumstances, only some that are better/worse than others. Rarely does reality exemplify the vision we uphold in our mental theater, but all too often the discrepancies we don’t expect discourage us from taking initiative.  We assume it’s safer to wait than it is to make a new attempt within unfamiliar, uncertain circumstances.  It’s better to undergo a little more planning, right?  Not necessarily.

The perils of over-planning:

I believe in the value of education and preparation, but waiting for a flawless plan and ideal circumstances is planning to fail.  Due diligence and preparation certainly has its place, but we must also be “prepared” to learn from experience because most our constructive learning experiences come from action.  This is a key distinction. 

Preparing to learn from experience means embodying a willingness to undergo numerous discomforts, be it emotional, financial, social, etc.

Perhaps this is why we avoid action and opt for a life of reaction, because only then can we justify our dissatisfaction with the belief that life is conspiring against us.

I’ve come to believe that people, either consciously or unconsciously, seek reasons not to do something far more often than the reverse.  In this instance, (over)planning becomes the perfect crutch.  We can tell ourselves we haven’t given up; we’re just not “ready” yet.

It is easy to forget that preparation is but one (yes, one) transitional stage of a larger, more consequential process.  The fact is, much of life is “on the job” training and our plans should always take this into account.  By trying to avoid the “awkward stages” by way of planning alone, we often do ourselves a disservice.  It is tempting to spend much of our time perfecting our plan to avoid failing and stumbling, but even those at the top of their professions have undergone many challenges and uncomfortable learning curves.  And some may argue that is the very reason why they are best.

We should expect moments of discomfort and take on a new goal of learning to seek solace within new, more testing circumstances–or as author, Eckhart Tolle says, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” There will always be awkward stages within new beginnings, but that is also where the most valuable growth and opportunities occur.  Even the following cliché still provides me with some peace of mind: every winner was also a beginner.

Reactionary surrender:

While planing is taking place, life is still unfolding–it does not conveniently wait until we claim to be “ready.”  Therefore, hovering in the planning stage eventually forces us to react to what is happening around us.  Like a ball bouncing off of a wall, living in reaction means that we often find ourselves rebounding from one obstacle to the next finding it increasingly difficult to take control and reverse the process.

Rita Mae Brown, the prolific American writer, once said:

“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.”

This idea of reaction suggests that an event must occur before the individual takes independent action—a very familiar concept for too many people.  Simply by waiting, however, we are surrendering personal responsibility to deliberately create a good percentage of our experiences.

Reacting to one situation after the next means giving up the unique power we posses to think for ourselves, take initiative, and actively pursue what we want most in life.  Instead of creating our reality, we are forced to endure a set of circumstances under which we believe to have no control.  Consequently, we may become embittered and begin seeing life as elusive, unmanageable, and unjust, thus encouraging the negative cycle to continue.

Since waiting, under most circumstances, is reactionary it means we are not engaged doing the things necessary for new or better results.  Therefore, to borrow the word from Brown’s quotation we must “fight” the immediate comfort of remaining idle in the moment; fight our own doubt of possible disappointment; fight the limits of the status quo; and fight to think beyond our current circumstances to take actions that create, rather than prevent, a future experience.

On risk:

One of the main reasons we engage in planning is to minimize risk–and that is understandable.  But planning will never mean avoiding risk entirely.  There is always risk in taking action… the problem lies in how many of us instinctively assume the only risk is potential loss (what psychologists call loss-aversion).  But there is an equally dangerous flip-side: The deprivation of potential success that arises from a lack of action.

There will always be a long list of “What if’s…”  But too often we favor “What if’s” that assume a negative (what we stand to lose) as opposed to a “What if” that assumes a positive (the potential gain).  It’s important to assess the risk of losing something already in our possession, but it is equally important to account for the loss of something greater that we don’t yet have.  Consider that delayed action can also generate countless negatives that we often overlook such as a lack of enthusiasm, purpose, or personal fulfillment.  A great question to consider is, “What will I miss out on if I don’t take action?”


Liberation through action:

Whatever your goals and visions, positive thinking alone won’t bring them into reality.  Most people would like more money, more friends, a nicer house, or a new car.  They wish they had more freedom, more time, or a better relationship with their parents or kids—but their strategy is rooted in hope, not action.  It’s been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  What road are you on?

As the expression goes, it’s not the things we did do that we often regret most, but the things we did not do.  So don’t spend your life on the launching pad.  Adjustments can be made in flight.  I would argue that the feedback we receive from action is more valuable than pursuing the ambiguous objective of amassing “more” data and performing “more” research.   Confucius once said, “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” The message is simple: We learn from doing.  Action is an excellent teacher.

There are numerous things that humans do to both create and perpetuate the world’s pains, but one of the most prevalent human blunders is inaction.  There are plenty of people who can, but for whatever reason, do not employ their abilities, talents, and ideas.  And that perhaps, is the greatest folly of all.

Assuming you are crystal clear about the purpose of your pursuit, planning is an important first step, but only personal responsibility and action can free us from an external locus of control and eliminate feelings of submission.  Although life certainly presents unexpected circumstances that require prompt responses, consistently taking new action whenever possible allows the individual to bring about more of what they want.  Reactive behavior may allow us to survive, but proactive behavior is what allows us to thrive.

Inciteful Question and Actions:


  • Always assign a deadline to your planning process.
  • Approach somebody you trust and ask them to be your accountability consultant. Give them the freedom to check in with you at random times and question your actions and progress toward your goals.  Sometimes we need an outside party to call “B.S.” on our own deceptive excuses.
  • Define your bad dream.  Write down, in painful detail, what the dreaded outcome may be. Very rarely is our worst-case scenario as bad as our imagination leads us to believe.
  • Take one simple action right now (as in the next 10 minutes) that will move you closer the desired outcome of your goal/s.


  • What is the purpose of my pursuit?  Action without a defined purpose is just plain stupid.
  • What will I miss out on if I don’t take action?
  • How might the environment/circumstances change during my planning process?

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts on planning vs. over-planning?  What techniques have you used to ensure action?  Post your comments below.

Stay uncommon,

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