Step 4: Creating a Plan (Part One)
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” Winston Churchill
Welcome to the eighth blog in our series on Confidence and Success using Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT).
In this blog, we’ll be looking at the importance of making a plan of action, and the obstacles, often based on irrational and unhealthy beliefs, we put in the way of even choosing a goal to aim for, never mind starting on the path to achieve it. We’ll then dispute these obstacles, giving you the tools to overcome them and progress towards your ultimate goal of confidence and success.
A plan is your road map from your current reality to your goal, with a time frame. Planning is the creation and maintenance of a plan. A plan, typically, is a list of steps with timing and resources needed to get you to your goal.
You already know how to make plans because you plan on a daily basis. You may plan a party, dinner, a get together, trip to the cinema or theatre, birthdays, Christmas and other festivities, New Year etc. You have the necessary basic skills already.
Because it helps:
- keep your goal in mind as well as the means of getting there
- reduce risk
- give direction
- encourage creativity and decision making
The objective of the 4th step is creating a plan, the map to your goal. If you have decided on your goal but have avoided making a plan then consider some of the obstacles we have highlighted below. See if they resonate with you and if not think about why you are avoiding planning.
Obstacles to creating a plan:
1. Developing a plan is too hard and dull – it’s too much effort
2. The plan must be perfect
3. I don’t know how to write a plan
4. I’m not sure I want it enough
Obstacle 1 “Developing a plan is too hard and dull – it’s too much effort” – and how to overcome it
Avoiding planning because developing a plan is too hard and dull is provoked by holding an unhealthy belief about hard work and boredom. It really doesn’t bode well for your success and confidence to maintain this belief if you are serious about your goal.
The unhealthy belief about hard work will take the form of the following general themes:
Life must be easy, comfortable and effortless.
I must be able to perform well or outstandingly all of the time.
The above attitude will give rise to many offshoot beliefs as well as specific beliefs such as:
Planning must not be dull, I can’t tolerate dull work.
Making a plan must be easy, I can’t stand it when things are too hard.
I must not find writing a plan difficult, if I do it means I’m useless
The demands cannot be met if you are someone who finds planning difficult and dull. Avoidance of this step is provoked by an unhealthy belief about difficulty, frustration, effort and lack of enjoyment. The demand that you MUST find planning easy or that you MUST not find it dull is the problem.
The Low Frustration Tolerance belief is also at the heart of this problem. You are underestimating your ability to tolerate difficulty or a dull task. You really do not have to enjoy creating a plan in order for you to do it. It would be better if you did but you don’t have to.
Reality Check – Must
Insisting that your current experience of planning be different does not alter its reality. You find planning difficult or dull? OK, so be it. There is no Law of Nature that dictates that it has to be different or the opposite.
This style of CBT is not about helping you put a positive spin on what you feel, think or how you personally experience the task of making a plan. It is about helping you understand that by taking the demand out of your thinking and increasing your frustration tolerance to the tasks and jobs that you don’t like, you can develop confidence and increased chance of success. So we do it by putting the goal sabotaging beliefs to a reality check.
You do not need to alter your personal reality. You can accept that you find planning dull or difficult. This means that you would have preferred that was different because it would have made your life easier. Just because you have preferred your personal reality about planning to have been different it doesn’t follow that it must be so. This is the common sense argument. In essence ‘just because you prefer X, it doesn’t follow that you MUST have X’. Out of the following two statements, which one makes sense:
- I would prefer that planning was easy but it doesn’t mean it must be
- I would prefer planning to be easy and therefore it absolutely must be
Your demand that planning must be easy or that it mustn’t be dull does not logically follow from the fact that you would have preferred it was nice and easy.
You may say I don’t care if my belief isn’t realistic or that it doesn’t make sense. You may say that regardless of those two facts you will keep the demand up. It is your life, it is your belief and you have every right not to change anything.
But just focus, for a minute, on your overall goal. How is your demand that planning must be easy, or that it mustn’t be dull helping you move closer to it? It really is unhelpful. It provokes anxiety and avoidance. If you want to achieve success then it may helpful for you to change your thinking and behaviour where planning is concerned.
Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)
Low Frustration Tolerance is described as an unhealthy/irrational belief that underestimates your ability to cope, tolerate or stand frustration and difficulty with a particular situation. Expressed by statements like; it is intolerable, I can’t cope, I can’t stand it, It is too hard.
Procrastination is often confused with laziness. If you are procrastinating about making a plan because you are finding it difficult or dull then you probably have a Low Frustration Belief linked to your demand i.e. Planning must be easy and if not I can’t stand. Procrastination is defined as putting off a task that is in your best interest to complete by a specific deadline. At the heart of procrastination is usually, but not always, an LFT belief.
Reality Check – LFT
What can we see from doing a reality check? Firstly, if you couldn’t stand or tolerate making a plan because it’s dull or difficult then you would have exploded and turned into a puff of smoke the moment you sat down to make a plan. This doesn’t happen in reality. What you can prove is that you find is difficult and dull. That’s it. Tolerate it? You absolutely have been and are. You can also observe that people manage to complete dull tasks or difficult tasks. Difficult and dull jobs do not kill us.
As we said earlier, it is true that you be someone who finds planning difficult and dull but just because you do it doesn’t follow that you cannot tolerate it. Believing that it is intolerable doesn’t make sense and doesn’t follow from the fact that you find it planning dull or difficult.
If the reality check and the common sense arguments do not convince you then just think how your LFT about planning is helping you. Does it help to keep believing that you can’t stand or tolerate planning because it’s dull or difficult? Think about what that way of thinking does? How it impacts of your emotions, thinking and behaviour and whether it helps you to get the job done. What’s more important to you avoiding the dullness in the short term or moving towards your bigger goal? It’s your choice.
Obstacle 2 “The plan must be perfect” – how to overcome it
This is a common obstacle to planning and in the implementation of the plan. We will examine the underlying issues about this obstacle. Why do you think some people demand that their plan has to be perfect?
There are a number of reasons but the common ones are:
- The individual demands that they must do everything to an outstanding level, otherwise it means they are worthless or a failure
- The individual is anxious about negative judgement if they present their plan to others
- The individual is anxious about failure
The above demands are based on the following general themes:
- I must perform well or outstandingly at all times
- Others must treat me nicely, considerately or fairly at all times
- Life must be comfortable and hassle free
The above general themes can trigger a multitude of specific beliefs such as:
- I must write the perfect plan, if I don’t it would awful, unbearable and proves I’m a failure.
- I must be certain that I will do the plan correctly, it would awful and intolerable if I’m not.
- The plan has to be perfect, if not then I will fail, which mustn’t happen. If it did, it would awful, I couldn’t handle that, it would mean I’m a total failure.
- Others must approve of my plan, if they don’t that would awful, and would prove I’m no good.
- I must certain the plan is 100% fool proof, if not something terrible could happen.
One thing to note is that not all of the derivative beliefs are present with each demand. All or any combination of the three derivative beliefs (Awfulsing, LFT, Self Damning) may be present.
Reality Check – MUST
Looking at all of the beliefs above, the general ones and the specific ones, they are all inconsistent with reality. There is no Law of Universe that says you must write the perfect plan, be in the right mood to write it, be certain that it’s correct and fool proof. That is basically it. If such a Law of Nature existed then all of us would always and in every situation and at all times do things perfectly, be in the right mood to perform a task, be certain and have no doubts.
As we said above it is a nice wish to have. It would be great if we write the perfect, fool proof plan. It would be great to be certain that it won’t fail. But just because we want these things, it doesn’t follow that they MUST happen. It doesn’t make sense to insist just because we’d like it.
Looking at these demands, it is clear that they will not help you complete your plan. If your plan is an important step, then the above demands would provoke you to feel anxious, have negative thoughts as well as avoid. Letting go of these demands would help you achieve the plan and help you pursue your bigger goal. Overcoming this obstacle by accepting all the possibilities of the different threats and risks would help you overcome your anxiety and feel confident.
Awfulising is an unhealthy/irrational belief that when a demand is not fulfilled, the badness is viewed as 100% or more bad i.e. end of the world bad, nothing else is worse in that moment. It is often expressed as: It is a disaster, It is horrible or awful, terrible It is a catastrophe, It is the end of the world.
Reality Check – Awfulising
If you do not write the perfect plan the world will not come to an end. Worse things exist than failing at writing the perfect plan. The same is equally true if others didn’t approve of you plan. Can you think of what would be worse than this? If you can, then you have just proved that an imperfect plan and all the other possibilities are not the worst things that could happen. We are not saying that you should take an indifferent attitude. We are saying take the horror out it.
It doesn’t make sense to awfulise badness. Just because an imperfect plan would be bad it doesn’t follow that it’s awful. The same goes for the other possibilities. It would be bad if your plan failed but not awful. It’s not good if you are not in the right mood when you want to write a plan but it’s not the end of the world either.
The helpfulness argument is, essentially, about understanding ‘what’s in it for you if you maintained this belief?’ In this case, what’s in it for you when believe that writing an imperfect plan is awful?
Awfulising an imperfect plan only provokes anxiety. In a state of anxiety, your mind is pre-occupied with creating scenarios of doom and gloom. You are readily distracted from your goal.
It would be more helpful if you kept the badness of your concerns realistic. This means by remembering that bad things exist and happen but the Earth still revolves around the Sun. What would be the benefits to you in taking the horror out of writing an imperfect plan, have others disapprove of it or failing?
Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)
LFT is particularly present in problems with discomfort, boredom and effort.
Reality Check – LFT
What would happen to you if you produced an imperfect plan, or you were not in the right mood to create the perfect plan? Would you collapse in heap and never recover? Of course not. Believing you cannot bear or tolerate an imperfect plan is simply not true. It is true that it would be undesirable and difficult but it is not true that you couldn’t bear or tolerate them.
Given what we discussed in the reality check argument, you can see that it doesn’t make sense to believe that you cannot bear or tolerate something just because you find it difficult or frustrating. Which of the two following beliefs make sense?
- It would be difficult and frustrating for me if I didn’t write the perfect plan but it wouldn’t be unbearable
- It would difficult and frustrating for me if I didn’t write the perfect plan and therefore unbearable.
An LFT belief about writing an imperfect plan or being uncertain about it is unhelpful to you. Apart from it not being true or sensible it really does not promote success or confidence. It stops you from moving forward and sabotages your goals. Changing your LFT belief to a High Frustration Tolerance (HFT) belief would be far more helpful you.
Reality Check – Self Damning
When you put yourself down, you are operating on the notion that you can, as a human being, be perfect. If you are perfect then you can do so. Obviously this is not the case, but this demanding and self damning belief does not reflect the true nature of who you are. You are not perfect, no human being is. Therefore, it is not true that you are worthless, useless, stupid, or a total failure because of a failing.
American Psychologist Paul Hauck has explained the human self in a very clear yet profound manner. He says the self is ‘every conceivable thing about you that can be rated’. This literally means, all your thoughts, images, feelings, actions and bodily parts are all parts of what makes you you. All these aspects are parts of you. So if you fail at writing the perfect plan, or if you fail to win approval from others over your plan then how does it make sense to believe that your entire self is therefore a failure? It really doesn’t follow does it?
Damning yourself in such a final way because of a single failing such as not writing the perfect plan is unhelpful. It provokes unhealthy negative emotions like anxiety and depression as well as negative thoughts and destructive behaviours. As a consequence damning yourself is directly linked to your lack of success and lack of confidence. Accepting yourself unconditionally and accepting that you are fallible impacts on your success and sense of confidence in yourself and in overcoming this particular planning obstacle.
In our next blog, we’ll look at the remaining two obstacles to creating a plan: ‘I don’t know how to write a plan’ and ‘I’m not sure I want it enough.’