“Plan the plan, not the results.” -Taylor Hunt
Even when our youngest was still in her crib, she liked to have a plan. Each morning when I went in to get her out of bed she would ask the same question. “What is today?” She would burst out laughing if I answered, “It’s Tuesday.” “No!” she would exclaim through her giggles, “What is today??”
It took some trial and error before I understood what she was actually asking. She wanted to know what the day held in store for her. I quickly learned that the more detailed the list, the happier she was. It’s been a long time, but I think this is a fairly accurate answer that would have met with her approval.
“We’re going to get dressed, have breakfast, stand on the bus stop with your brother, take your sister to school, run to the grocery store, take the dog for a walk, pick up your sister from school, make lunch, watch Arthur, have a nap, go to the library, meet your brother’s bus, read some books, make dinner, eat dinner, have a bath, put on your jammies, have stories and prayers, and go to bed.”
This little toddler was really listening to my answers each morning. If I missed something obvious, she was on it. “Mommy! You forgot about lunch!” or (with another giggle) “Silly Mommy! I can’t go to sleep without jammies on!” She has always known a well-planned plan from a shoddy one.
Here’s the surprising thing about my little planner – if my phone rang mid-morning and we got invited to join some friends for a couple of hours at the zoo, she was totally fine scrapping her episode of Arthur and our trip to the library. As much as she loved her plan, she wasn’t overly bound up with the results of that plan. She was actually pretty flexible – willing to go with the flow as each day unfolded.
All of you fellow (recovering or not) control freaks out there can attest that this is not always the case with planners. In fact, I think I can hear many of you murmuring, “Wait, a well-planned plan should be executed precisely. Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that how you get results?” There’s a tiny bit of me that still feels the same way.
It’s important to remember that, while it’s nice to have a plan as you get your day started, I (a creator of some exceptionally good plans) have never encountered a plan so well-planned that it’s worth missing a trip to the zoo.
Relax, fellow planners. I’m not about to suggest that plans are bad. Not at all! They are great for direction, inspiration and motivation. They are also really good for more mundane reasons such as keeping track of details and getting stuff that needs doing done. All I’m suggesting is a regular mental and emotional check-in with the status you’re giving to your plan. In spiritual language, we’re making sure the plan hasn’t slipped into the role of a false idol. More simply put, we need to make sure our plan hasn’t slipped into the driver’s seat. That while one eye is paying attention to the details of our plan, the other is always focused on our higher intention.
As the mom of a toddler, my daily plans were often excruciatingly detailed and so filled with minutia such as laundry, food shopping, meal preparation and naps, that they were timed to the minute. Yet, my highest intention for each day was not getting all this stuff done. On the contrary, it was to share a happy, active, enriching day with my child. This higher intention sometimes required me to set my plan aside and, instead, let life take its course.
Whatever you’re planning – whether it’s your yoga practice for the morning, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, your family vacation or the list of errands you’d like to get done today – it’s important to check in with your intention. It’s not hard, though it does sometimes require a shift in perspective. For your yoga practice, it is simply to take care of your body and soul. For the meeting, it is the project or problem for which you needed those particular minds to come together. For your vacation, it is creating a shared experience for those you love. For your list of errands, it might be to accomplish just those things that cannot wait until tomorrow.
You will notice, as you begin to practice checking in with your intention, that while your plan may feel so tight and cramped that there is no space or time to divert from it, your intention feels much more spacious. This is exactly what my once-upon-a-time toddler was teaching me. Your intention, much like my daughter, will always be flexible enough to allow life to take its course. When you are following your intention rather than the dictates of your plan, you ensure that laundry and grocery shopping or anything else that could be done tomorrow never seem so important that you miss out on one of life’s gifts – such as an afternoon at the zoo.