choice, expectation, tuesday morning coffee

Tuesday Morning Coffee: Planning Puzzle

My re-entry into the real world, after nearly a month of packing-moving-holiday-sick, is coinciding with the New Year and all that can bring: resolutions and new plans for success.

It’s hard to tease apart, then, what has put me in a pretty heavy planning phase.

I’m not a “resolution” maker, at least not in the traditional sense of making a list of goals, big and small, with only a slight inclination of how to make them happen. As I wrote about last week, for me this year is more about reflection and dreaming, about making sure I can create the right conditions in my life for me to then be able to plug in the things I want to do and have them stick.

I’m also someone who intensely craves routine and predictability, and so not having that the past month has me in a place where I’m looking forward to getting back in a day-to-day schedule.

The other day, as I was looking at all the different colored blocks on my Google calendar, moving them around and planning a new routine around a class I’m taking and when runs and workouts can fit in and ensuring I’m still able to carve out writing time in the mornings, I realized that the making of the plan, for me, is really quite fun. It’s like a puzzle: the day-to-day puzzle involves the calendar, then the month-to-month and year puzzle involves notecards tacked on my bulletin board, so I don’t fall in the trap of planning a vacation and a key step in the editing of my novel and a class all in the same month as a work deadline.

I mean, my organizational heart loves this kind of stuff.

So many colors!
Also, who put that run after Sunday breakfast??

I remember doing this as a kid, during the summers, giving myself daily schedules for those long days as a high schooler, not completely carefree due to summer jobs but open enough that there were things to do, people to see, pounds to lose before school started, a new me to create! Even if I couldn’t name it, I knew that I loved the planning and I loved to feel safe with a plan and routine in place.

The difference between then and now, apart from being able to do my schedule in color-coded Google form rather than pen and paper, is that I remember absolutely berating myself if I “fell off” this plan (I have proof in my journals, the same place I’d write this schedule is the place then I’d agonize over something I hadn’t done or what wasn’t going according to plan). I was a failure, of course, if I couldn’t breathe life into a perfect plan on paper and make it reality.

I couldn’t separate the plan from expectation.

It’s not hard to do—we all fall into the trap, whether we plan five months or five seconds ahead of time. The minute there is a fork in the road and the plan goes one way and real life goes the other, there will be a point of tension. For me as a kid, that point of tension was a place I’d blame myself for creating that fork in the road. I should somehow be able to keep those two roads on top of each other in perfect harmony.

Aha, there’s that “should.”

I was not creating my plans in the context of real life. Plans that served as a structure, a framework, rather than an absolute. Plans that can be analyzed and reworked if something wasn’t working—I’m not the thing that needs reworking, it’s the plan!

And also acknowledging that, some days, the plan won’t be enough for me to get out of bed early enough to write AND run, my depression won’t always listen to the plan (but having a plan helps keep the depression away). Some days, the plan won’t say, “You didn’t sleep a wink last night so you need to go to bed early and sleep in tomorrow.” It won’t say, “You felt like shit on that run so tomorrow needs to be a rest day.” It won’t say, “Your friend called you at the last minute to have a drink.”

Well, thank you Google, now I can just slide a few colored boxes around and be back on track, with an extra hour of sleep and an extra “friend date” block. I do not have to create a “kick yourself for not doing what your plan says” category. I’m the one making the plan, so I can do whatever I want, thank you very much.

Context is important: life happens. It’s one thing to make a plan in order to create the environment in which I can succeed. It’s another thing to let that plan be in charge, let that plan control me, rather than the other way around. The former shows me that it’s possible, that those little colored boxes can all fit together in a way that makes finding time for what I want, possible. It takes the decision-making out of the equation so I can execute, rather than agonize over the logistics at the same time I’m trying to make a decision. The latter restricts me, creates unfulfilled expectation, which creates tension, and leaves no one to blame but myself.

I don’t need that.

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