How Planning Ahead Can Make You Happier

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White sands picnic I talked with someone recently about planning and why he avoided it. He thought it was rigid and unimaginative. On the contrary, I replied, taking up the challenge. I’ll show you how it's flexible and creative. 

Here’s the situation: it’s a warm fall afternoon. Me: Let’s go to the beach! Him: Great, I’m ready. Me: Wait, there’s some stuff I want to take. Him: Let’s just go! 

Planning in advance does all these wonderful things: 

  • It creates focus, which then inspires action. Once the beach idea came up, there were a lot of things I knew to do because I could visualize the possibilities
  • Visualizing foresees problems. (It could be cold)
  • Planning crystallizes desire. (I had the desire not to be cold, so I brought a jacket)
  • Keeping track of time makes positive outcomes more likely (we'll get to the place before it closes)
  • Planning closes the gap between wanting something and getting it (the clearer you are about what you want, the faster you can get it)
  • It honors my preferences. They are important to me because I know from experience that they directly affect the pleasure I get from an activity. I can’t control everything (it could rain) but I can control many things, and quite easily (I want a knife for the mayonnaise, not a twig we found on the ground). 

Planning likes this requires imagination because you visualize what could happen. Not just that it might get cold, but that it might be fun to bring a book to read together. Planning is flexible because you can bring a change of clothes in case you decide to go out for dinner on the way home, for example.

You’re not planning a strict schedule that must be adhered to; you're accounting for some other wonderful possibilities you haven’t even thought of. 

Picnic shelters from Ed Siasoco's photostream.