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Having A Backup Plan May Keep You From Achieving Your Goal, Research Finds

Having A Backup Plan May Keep You From Achieving Your Goal, Research Finds

“There is no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A” ~Will Smith

Such a profound and thought provoking statement. But is it accurate?

Professor Jihae Shin, Assistant Professor of Management and Human Resources at the Wisconsin School of Business (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Katherine L. Milkman from the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) conducted an experiment to research this topic and have concluded that it is–indeed–a very accurate statement. Their research proves that merely thinking through a backup plan, in most cases, reduces overall goal performance and hurts the chances of successfully achieving the primary goal.

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The Research

Shin and Milkman conducted a series of experiments set out to test the notion that backup planning does more harm than good. They set up a series of laboratory experiments to test this theory. In one experiment, participants were given a sentence-unscrambling task and told that if they showed high performance on the task, they would be given a free snack or the chance to leave the study early. One set of participants were then instructed to find other ways they could get free food on campus, or make arrangements to eat later in the day in case they didn’t do well enough to earn the snack or the early dismissal. And you probably guessed the outcome. Those that were able to make plans to get food later did not perform as well as the group that did not have other plans.

Through a series of similar experiments, the cohort was able to determine that making a plan B caused people to exert less effort and energy and to be less successful at attaining their primary goal.

An article published in Science Daily further investigates and validates that backup plans are not as beneficial as once thought. The article discusses the findings of scientists from the University of Zurich who have developed a new theoretical model to study the use and usefulness of backup plans.

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“Our model is based on a straightforward idea: backup plans change the way you pursue your goal, even if you aren’t using them, and even if you never use them,” said Dr. Christopher Napolitano, who is a researcher and lead author of their essay.

Simply put, research shows that the “backup plan effect” is counterintuitive and works by diminishing the desire to achieve the goal. Reduced desire means reduced motivation, which translates into a reduction in effort and performance.

Throw caution to the wind–cautiously

So are these research findings suggesting that we throw caution to the wind and chase our dreams with reckless abandon? Not exactly… It’s a bit more complicated than that.

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Research shows that only having a plan A works when the outcome of the goal is largely under your control. For example, winning the lottery should not be your only goal. The ability to reach that goal is largely outside of your control making it imperative that you have a plan B. However, if obtaining a college degree is your goal, having a backup plan may sabotage your efforts of toughing it out and seeing it through to the end. The backup plan effect is particularly counterintuitive when it comes to things like marriage and certain financial, educational and career goals. If you give yourself an out–you are probably going to take it.

However, scientists suggest that while making a backup plan can be detrimental and counterproductive, it does not mean that people should go through life without EVER having one. Experts say you could explore ways to mitigate the negative effects — such as being more strategic about when you make a backup plan.

“You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first,” Shin suggests.

At the end of the day, investing too much time and energy in making backup plans could create a sort of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ where one becomes more susceptible to using a well-developed backup plan, and subsequently failing to make a sufficient investment into succeeding with a plan A.

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Denise Hill

Speech Writer/Senior Editor

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Last Updated on October 15, 2018

How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

Do you sometimes feel that you add items to your to-do list faster than you tick them off? Do you spend most of your day worrying about your lack of time?

The truth is, no matter how much we love our job, or how productive we believe we are under stress, there comes a moment when the pressure rises above boiling point. The sheer number of urgent tasks multiplies in a geometric progression. New possibilities no longer sound inspiring, they sound overwhelming and equal more work.

If that’s where you are right now – keep reading! If not, it doesn’t mean you should wait until you get there to learn how to cope with a demanding work schedule and how to calm yourself down quickly when you feel overwhelmed.

Here are 7 quick and easy tips on how to calm down when you are overwhelmed:

1. Let go of a few activities

Yes, it’s that easy! Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “If I don’t do it today, will it matter a month from now?”

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Not every urgent task is important. Just like not every important, high pay-off task is urgent. The best way to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and to manage your time is to know the difference between the two and learn to simplify your life by getting your to-do list down to three big tasks.

2. Take deep breaths to calm down

This advice sounds so simple it’s often overlooked. But it works better (and faster) than any other relaxation technique out there.

There is a direct connection between our emotional state and breathing. An anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed person breathes as if they have just finished running a marathon. A calm person breathes differently. Their breathing is deep, slow and steady. So when you have a panic attack, the best way to bring your heart rate down and to regain your cool is to change your breathing.

Try this now:

Take a slow, long deep breath in, filling your lungs with air and expanding your diaphragm. Hold your breath for four counts and then slowly release the air through your mouth. Repeat four times and notice frustration and the feeling of being overwhelmed dissolve with each long exhale of these calming breaths.

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3. Make “Just one thing” your mantra

When we feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our to-do list, it’s easy to enter the ‘deer in the headlights’ state. You see deadlines approaching directly towards you, and you know that something has to be done about them, but you just don’t know where to start.

The best way to get your mind out of an ‘inactivity trance’ is to create momentum. This is what makes the “Just one thing” mantra so powerful. It helps to change our expectation that everything has to be completed right now, “or else.”

Next time you feel overwhelmed make grabbing a cup of coffee your “Just one thing.” You can do it, right? Then come back, pick one of the smallest tasks on your to-do list and tell yourself you’ll do just that one task. This is your next “Just one thing” that you will concentrate on until it’s complete. After that you can move on to the next task and so on.

It’s not “One thing at a time.” Saying this implies that there is a huge line of other tasks waiting to get done and that’s not the message you want to keep repeating to yourself. Learn how to focus here and stop getting overwhelmed.

4. Reduce the multi-tasking and multi-thinking

It’s been proven that multi-tasking is very inefficient, to the point of dumbing us down (more than smoking marijuana does). The same is true for multi-thinking, when your mind frantically jumps from one thought to another, trying to focus on and analyze several things all at once.

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Fortunately, there is help. A few minutes of meditation or brainwave music is all it takes to start feeling more relaxed, more creative and less overwhelmed.

5. Get moving

Any exercise you engage in – be it walking or dancing to your favorite beat – helps to release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, through your body and to clear your mind.

Staying active also increases your productivity, enhances your ability to combat stress and anxiety. It also helps you to release the tension, boosting your mood and changing the thoughts that induce the sense of being overwhelmed.

The best part is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get the mind-soothing benefits of exercise. Even as little as 15 minutes of dancing or jogging can go a long way towards making you feel better and staying calmer.

6. Change your surroundings

We all need and deserve to take vacations from work woes and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, spending two weeks lazing on a beach, toes in the sand and a Mojito in hand, is not always an option. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t take short ‘vacations’ from work stress and the technology buzz.

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Go outside for a few minutes and enjoy the sunshine. Stop at a park instead of driving straight home from work. Sometimes changing your surroundings and ‘spicing up your routine’ is all it takes to change your perspective on things and find creative solutions to seemingly complex and overwhelming problems.

7. Get some pet therapy

Studies have shown what most of us already guessed – our pets can be a great help during stressful moments. Simple actions such as petting or playing with your dog or cat can lower high blood pressure, boost your immune system and boost your mood.

Besides, pets can make the best conversation partners to share your frustrations with. They listen, they love you unconditionally and they never talk back or say, “I told you so.”

Final thoughts

Don’t wait for stress to hit you to start practicing these quick ways to calm down when you are overwhelmed. The best way to enjoy a worry-free life is not to push yourself to the limit of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Featured photo credit: Dardan via unsplash.com

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