It’s good to have backup plans in case your goals don’t work out in your career or life. However, if you spend too much effort on figuring out the details of your backup plans, it can make you less likely to really pursue your first plan.
Photo by Natalie B.
As productivity site 99u explains, when you only have one plan to achieve a goal, you throw all your effort into it. If you have a backup plan that’s easier, you might be tempted to to give up on Plan A when it gets hard, in favour of your Plan B. That idea was reflected in research performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania:
Based on their findings, the researchers Jihae Shin and Katherine Milkman advised that “although making a backup plan has well-known benefits [such as reducing anxiety about the future…], it also has costs that should be weighed carefully”.
These new results lack a certain amount of realism — performance on an online word game is not equivalent to launching a new company or penning a novel. Nonetheless, the experiments support a compelling intuition — that by dousing your fear, a backup plan can also extinguish your burning passion. Logic suggests this is most likely to be a problem when your goal depends on dogged determination, much less so for “punts” the success of which depends much more on luck — in this latter case, backup plans are a shrewd idea with no apparent downside.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a backup plan. Just keep your work on it proportional. Spend more effort on your main goals than you do developing your backup plans. Make sure that the effort you’re putting into your day-to-day work doesn’t fall off just because you have an idea of what else you could be doing.