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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]”If the plan doesn’t work change the plan, but never change the goal.” – Unknown[/mk_blockquote]

next stepsI’ve lived a long and happy life following plans. I cook and bake from recipes – many tried and true from the kitchens of my mom and friends. In college and grad school I learned to select classes taught by professors who not only handed out syllabi, but actually followed them. I closely follow directions when driving somewhere new and confess that, despite my beloved i-phone and Google Maps app, I still keep in my car the box of maps my dad gave me when I got my driver’s license “just in case.” In short, I’ve always been happiest and most effective when the rules, parameters and expectations are clear.

And then I had kids.

Despite the shelves of “how to” books available to parents, it’s been my experience that raising children is one undertaking that does not come with a map, a recipe, a syllabus or even a plan beyond the most basic of guidelines. This isn’t just true with your first child. If you think you’ve got being a mom or dad all figured out, the quickest way to prove yourself wrong is by having a second child. Heck, you don’t even have to do that. If you think you’ve got it all figured out, just wait a second. You’ll be right back at the drawing board concocting a new plan as soon as the next “age or stage” arrives.

Being a mother has forced me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to develop my improvisational skills. Being a mother has required me to develop a degree of comfort (perhaps only the tiniest of degrees, but still …) in flying blind. Being a mother has dragged me to the certainty that there is always (always!) more than one way to do something or get somewhere.

In short, being a mother has taught me to shift my focus (over and over and over again) from my plan to my goal.

Even as I type those words, it sounds like a no brainer. But, at least in my experience, it’s surprisingly easy for plans to supplant goals. Once I get going on a project – no matter how simple or complex – getting to the next step becomes profoundly desirable. Even when I’m beginning to get the feeling that the next step may no longer make sense, there’s a powerful urge in me to take it anyway, if only because it’s part of the plan. Plus, let’s face it, following an existing plan is a whole lot easier than regrouping to create a new one. But, sometimes in life regrouping to create a new plan is precisely what needs to happen.

I practice and teach Ashtanga yoga. This practice is comprised of (for most of us mere mortals) three series of postures, called Primary, Intermediate and Third series. As you practice, your body gains strength and flexibility. As this happens, you move on to the next posture and the next. Eventually, you’re ready to move on to the next series in the sequence and the step by step process of your practice continues. Honestly, I couldn’t have stumbled into a style of yoga that was more fitting for the planner in me if I’d planned it.

Except, following the plan didn’t end up working for me. My body simply didn’t open up in the postures of primary series the way it was intended to. Despite months and years of practice, my chest and shoulders remained stubbornly immobile. That is, until one of my teachers introduced me to Intermediate Series well before I’d achieved any degree of success in the “gateway” poses of primary series often described as required before you begin to work in the next series.

It turns out that for me, a dedicated rules- and plan-follower, breaking the rules and ceasing to the follow the plan was the key. To make matters even less conventional, it turns out  that it wasn’t the first or second postures of Intermediate series that I needed. (Calamity!) I had to sneak a little further ahead to find the postures that finally unlocked my body. But by changing the plan to one that worked for me, I was able (over years of practice) to keep my eye on the physical goals of Ashtanga yoga – to restore balance, to build strength and to develop stability in my body.

Setting aside Ashtanga’s plan was ridiculously hard for me. It made me feel alternately brazen and sheepish. It’s still not something I am completely comfortable that I did. Despite my discomfort, this was a major life lesson for me. Being willing to regroup and create a new plan was precisely what was needed, even though it drew me away from my comfort zone of following a tried and true plan. Being willing to set aside such a well developed and revered plan on my mat, has helped me become more willing to set aside plans (even plans that seem really good) that are not working off my mat.

In fact, I credit my yoga practice with my willingness to be flexible in how I’m raising each of my children. I know that just because certain curfew-related consequences worked for one child, does not mean they will work with the next. I know that just because one child is motivated by stickers, grades or even money, does not mean this will be the case with the others. In fact, so few of my parenting “plans” work across the board, that I have almost stopped making them. I am getting much better at ad libbing. I am getting better at improvising.

In short, as I wound up doing on my yoga mat, I’m learning to make up the plan as I go. I’m learning to figure out each next step as it comes. With my eye always on my goal of raising confident, content, compassionate and courageous children, I am getting much better at changing the plan as needed.

What plan do you need to set aside to reach your goal?