I’ve been traveling more this month than usual and all the physical transitions reminded me of a key concept for increasing joy and reducing stress. Yes, spontaneity is wonderful—and—planning helps! I am glad that I spent time preparing for a big trip all around Scotland that my husband and I took to celebrate our upcoming 30th wedding anniversary. Knowing in advance where to go and what to do made the multiple changes from airports to buses to trains to hotels go smoothly. And yet by not obsessing and scheduling each moment otherwise enabled us to find spectacular views and unexpected treats along the way. (Also don’t forget the well-known finding that the joy of a vacation is extended to all the days before your trip when you anticipate and get excited about your plans. I spent months enjoying the planning on this important trip!)
I am always playing around with the concepts of living in the moment vs. planning and frequently I struggle to reconcile the two. But in truth there is good reason for both styles. It’s always a balance between the two. Planning helps to enable you to be present when you are in a situation, particularly if the context is new or unsettling. So for instance, if you are getting ready for an important event in your life, a job interview, a big presentation, or in my recent case, a trip to an unknown location, it is very helpful to prepare in advance. With some planning you can be at your best and be present to the unfolding experience because you have anticipated aspects that perhaps you struggle with. That doesn’t mean that you have to plan every second. And that doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter a few hiccups along the way. But it does certainly increase the likelihood of a joyful ride.
This approach works well for big presentations, especially if you have concern about stage fright. I like to write out in complete sentences what I will say for the first few lines of a presentation. That planning takes away any concern I have about going blank or stumbling over words. And then I am freed from anxiety and will be off and running and can allow for improv, spontaneity—call it what you will—during the rest of the presentation. It’s a wonderful way to embrace both planning and being in the moment.
Welcoming planning and spontaneity is also great for your run-of-the-mill workday. I like to block out my calendar with planned activities or meetings. And I always include chunks of time that aren’t planned to allow for flexibility and creativity and unfolding of thoughts. But I know that even the planned parts will be more enjoyable if I am present and open to the unexpected—good or bad—that shows up. Life is ever changing and you never know what will happen. So the more you are aware that you can be prepared while also being open to what arrives will make your days that much more enjoyable.