Plan for the Future, Live in Today

Are you overthinking things?

One of the common challenges we have as team leaders these days is to make decisions under pressure. Where should we focus our time? Where do we start with our new content strategy? Should we back off our ambitious goals?

We become so focused on what the right decision is, we lose the ability to make one.

When we ruminate about a decision, our mental processing slows. We think rehashing problems in our head helps us figure out the answer. It almost never does.

Overthinking often rears its head as we plan out a complex change initiative.

Mapping out all the things to stop, create, and modify usually involves more unknowns than knowns.

I recently worked with a director of content strategy at a large B2C company to map out 12 weeks of tasks related to a new project. One of the more important milestones involved meeting with the e-commerce team to ensure their technology project timeline would line up with our efforts.

My client was worried. “What if they don’t get it done?” he asked.

“They’ve told us that they will,” I assured him.

“But what if they don’t believe in what we’re doing? What if something comes up? How can we even begin if we don’t know they will be successful? What more can we do?” he asked.

Over the next week or so, he kept coming back to his concern that we didn’t control the tech project. My advice for him was the same as it’s been for other overthinkers:

“We plan for the future, but we live in today.”

Here’s the secret to making ambitious plans: Once you’ve created the plan and set it into action, you have to let it go.

That’s right. Set your expectations, and then let them go.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should forget about your plans. It means that once you’re aware of all the things that need to happen, you can focus on the immediate problem-solving that influences whether they happen (or not).

Psychologists call this making room for working memory – our ability to use what’s in our brain’s memory banks to make better decisions based on present conditions. One example of working memory is when you automatically plot the optimal route to a destination as someone asks you if you’d like to go there.

I like to think of planning for (and then letting go of) the future as setting my expectations – and then expecting that being more present in the now will make them come true.

We typically ruminate on details we can’t control and that we fear will ruin the possible futures we’ve constructed. But to achieve the future we want, the only thing we can do is problem solve today.

Living in the moment isn’t that hard. We just need to stop worrying and make room in our brain for the working memory that reminds us that we can.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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