When Plans Fall to Pieces

“The best laid plans of mice and men…” originated from Robert Burns 1786 poem that eventually was the source of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. Even today, 230 years later, the phrase is frequently quoted and likely more frequently felt. We make plans – preparing diligently for the future as we should. And then, something happens that changes everything.

Both as wellness coaches and in our own lives and families, we will experience this frequently. There are several responses available:

  1. Eat dessert first – Since some plans fall to pieces, one (natural) response is to simply stop delaying gratification. Just live for today and let tomorrow worry about itself. This is a fantastic strategy in the short run. But the fact is, most of the time there is a tomorrow to face. And just as credit card debts come at a premium, so do life choices that don’t consider tomorrow. So sure – take a break – eat dessert first tonight (and maybe tomorrow). But just realize that this strategy falls flat within a very short timeframe – and the cost of “late payments” is excessive.
  2. Go into planning hyperdrive – The opposite approach to completely letting go and eating dessert first is to grasp for more control. Maybe the reason things didn’t work out as planned is that I didn’t plan enough! So this time…  Maybe it’s true – maybe upon further review some additional planning could have made a difference. However, sometimes things just happen for no apparent reason and completely unrelated to anything we’ve done. Making “tighter control” the answer to everything, soon the world closes in around us.
  3. Expanded view  – The third option is to take a step back and take another – broader – look. Yes – the concept of “reaping what we sow” is alive and well in the 21st century. From daily eating and exercise habits to financial decisions and relationship priorities, our lives are generally a composite of the daily choices we make. So when something happens, look closer. Discuss it with someone with wisdom in that area. Consider how alternative choices may have influenced the outcome. However, in the process, tune into the expanded view of what happened. Ok – so that relationship didn’t work out. What did you learn that will make the next one even better? You blew up your healthy eating plan over the weekend. Ok – so what was the precursor (and how cool is it that you HAVE a healthy eating plan for the first time in years)? You suffered a stress fracture training for your first marathon and won’t be able to participate. Painful, but you’re training for a marathon! Awesome! Now let’s figure out what resulted in the stress fracture for the future.

Do you see the difference? The natural response is to treat each issues as an all-encompassing, my whole life revolves around this thing right here and now (believe me, I’m the poster child of this response). The reality is that it’s one moment within a long life; a life that is made up of a trillion little moments just like this one. If we let it define us (or our client), then it will. If we expand our view and see it as an opportunity in the broader context, all of the moments that follow will be enhanced.

The best laid plans of mice and men may indeed go awry. But the value of those plans go much further than the current moment – if we’re willing to broaden the view.

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