Think about how much time you spend planning. You plan your meals. Plan your day. Plan your vacations. Plan your wedding. Plan your family and plan your life. How well is that working for you? How many times have you painstakingly planned something only to have the bottom drop out at the last minute? What can we do about all the unhealthy ruminating about planning?
Does it mean we shouldn’t plan anything? No, but we can learn to become more flexible. Here’s a few ways to start thinking a little differently about planning and ease your control freak tendencies.
1. Notice your patterns
Chances are you didn’t become a control freak overnight. Your need to plan is directly connected to your need for security and adequacy. While planning may give you a feeling of being in control of life and the people around you, it’s an illusion. The first step in learning to relax and stop micro-managing everything is to notice your behavior and thought patterns. Pay attention to what you tell yourself about the need to plan everything. Write down your thought patterns. Notice the triggers that set your need to plan and control in motion. Ask yourself, “Why am I planning this out?” or “What would happen if I just went to the store and bought some ingredients, instead of planning out a menu?”
2. Learn to think differently
Being a stickler can be good in some areas of life, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that even the best-laid plans can go up in smoke. We can easily get drawn into what therapists call cognitive distortions. These include “all or nothing thinking and catastrophizing.” For example, we may tell ourselves “If I don’t plan my day, nothing will get done.” Nothing means that not one thing will get done. Is that really true? No. We would have to lie in bed all day for nothing to get done. Catastrophizing means you blow things way out of proportion and assume the worse possible outcome. If nothing gets done, what do you tell yourself? Things like: I’m inadequate, I have to be responsible, I am a loser, or I have to please others, are negative self-defeating thoughts. Try and replace them with positive counterstatements. “I’ll prioritize my list of things to do and if I don’t get to it all, it’s not the end of the world. I’m still adequate,” is a good example. After all, tomorrow is another day!
3. Accept Change
The one thing we are all guaranteed in life is change. Learning to adapt to life’s unpredictability will afford us a lot less anxiety and mental stress. Sometimes we plan our lives so rigidly that we set ourselves up for disappointment when things don’t go our way. Sooner or later we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t control life and the people around us. How do we move toward accepting what we can’t plan for? Being convinced that all the stress and anxiety that goes along with it is not profitable for our well being. As long as we’re convinced we have to make perfect plans, we’ll continue to drive ourselves into the ground. Do your best and forget the rest!
4. Face your fears
No matter how much we know intellectually that we can’t plan for everything, we still try. We generally don’t give up until the usual coping strategies we have found for making life work go up in smoke. In the long run we would do better to face our fears and deal with them head on. Facing our fears means unpacking the underlying beliefs that drive them. What do you believe about yourself, others and the world around you as it relates to having to plan? How does planning make you feel secure? Answer those questions for yourself and you might find that you can plan less and take on new challenges.
5. Learn to relax
Trying to control everything in our lives is stressful, and when we’re stressed our bodies take a hit. If we learn to pay attention to our physical bodies we will realize that we all live with a certain degree of tension. Relaxing isn’t just about watching television or playing computer games. Real relaxation begins by noticing, so doing a body scan can help. Start by closing your eyes and sitting in a comfortable position. Scan your body starting with your head and neck, moving to your arms, stomach, legs and feet, paying attention to where there is tension. Once you’re done, you can do some progressive muscle relaxation exercises to reduce your tense muscles or perhaps some yoga to take the stress out of your day.
Let’s face it we all want to be in control and planning is great as long as it doesn’t take over your life. Start today to practice healthier ways to stop making plans for everything.