Good things happen when planned; bad things happen on their own: People Power - Dec 2016

By Sam Allman

When did you come to the realization that life is difficult? Whether rich or poor, eventually we all face that first Noble Truth that Buddha taught: life is suffering. This reminds me of the quote by author David Gerrold, “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.” Once that thought comes to our awareness, we begin to expect troubles and difficulties. Ever heard someone say something like, “My life is good right now, but I’m just waiting for the next bad thing to happen”? We say things like “sh** happens” to remind ourselves of the random nature of our future troubles. We even quote Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Who knows what’s lurking behind tomorrow, next week, next month or next year? 

It is natural for us to think about and prepare for the future. We have a strong need for security, which we have had since the beginning of time. But anticipating the future with dread and worry is what creates stress. Stress is considered the disease of the modern society. Worry, dread, anxiety and rumination (the constant mental preoccupation with life’s issues) fuel the generation of chemicals that produce the human stress response. Chronic stress interferes with our ability to function normally over an extended period of time.

According to studies by the Family and Work Institute, most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44% reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Worries about money, work and the economy top the list of the most frequently cited sources of stress. Forty-nine percent of Americans cite fears about job stability as a major source of stress—up from 44% last year. 

Many times, our worries cause us to suffer over things that have yet to or will not happen. “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened,” said Mark Twain. The irony is if what we worry about does happen, we suffer twice. We have doubled our pain! Also, rarely is the pain or suffering as bad as we anticipated. 

Stress is increasing because human evolution is not keeping up with societal evolution. Society has changed drastically in the last 200 years; humans have not. Some predicted that technology make our lives easier. It has, but it has also increased the demands on our attention and time. 

Consider all the things we do to cope that fuel our stress: skip meals, eat unhealthy, drink too much alcohol, procrastinate, work too much or play too much, or overdose on drugs, sugar, television, video games and social media. Our prisons are full of people who can’t cope, and occasionally good people flip out, committing suicide or work place or family violence. 

In a previous column, I wrote about how I quit watching and listening to the news accounts about the presidential campaign because the divisiveness and conflict stressed me out. My wife said I just put my head in the sand. Maybe so, but I protected myself from the stress. Now that the election is over, and I have pulled my head out, there is a whole new list of things that make me worried, stressed and anxious. Let’s face it: the only way to be stress-free is to die and be carried out in a pine box. You can only keep your head in the sand so long until you have to pull it out to breathe. We all have to learn to cope.

I have heard that word often: cope. Some synonyms for it are manage, survive, subsist, get by, bear up, hold one’s own, keep one’s head above water. To me, that doesn’t sound like much fun. Keeping my head above water sounds too stressful. I don’t want to cope. I want to flourish.

I am considered a senior citizen, but I want to rejoice in the rest of my life. I don’t want to accept or just cope with the cards I’m dealt; I want to deal some of my own cards. Though my desires for material possessions have diminished, I still have a bucket list. I have things I still want to do. I want to thrive and flourish in my remaining years. “Life is not about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself,” said George Bernard Shaw. Peter Drucker said it differently, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old; your future is ahead of you. You can start creating it today. You just have to remind yourself of your roots: you were born to be an entrepreneur. All humans were born to be entrepreneurs—not because we should all start companies but because the will to create is encoded in our human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship. You are an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your life. Carrying the mindset of an entrepreneur is the essence of people power.

One of our human endowments that separates us from most other species, and which is encoded in our DNA, is the gift of imagination. Einstein noted that imagination is “more important than knowledge.” It takes an imagination to create. If you worry and stress about your future, you have an imagination. Worry is the misuse of imagination. Why not imagine what you want, instead of what you don’t want? Imagining what you want creates excitement and motivation; imagining what you don’t want creates fear, anxiety and worry. 

Besides the ability to imagine and create, entrepreneurs are most notable for their ability to take action. Action is what separates the successful from failures. Failures blame others, shame themselves (explain why they are incapable of succeeding) and justify why their failures occur. Blame, shame and justification are self-defeating behaviors because they stifle the ability to act. These are the behaviors of victims. 

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, ACT: 
Accept their current reality; 
Create a vision of what they want their life to look like; and 
Take action to bring their vision to reality.

Entrepreneurs are self-reliant and believe that no one is coming to their rescue—that there is no “free lunch.” Success is a do-it-yourself proposition.

We are at the cusp of a new year. You can stress and worry about the future, the economy, your business and your job, or you can do something. Action actually alleviates stress. Imbue yourself with people power. Empower yourself to take action. How will you make good and desirable things come into your life? Planning. According to the late Total Quality Management guru, Philip Crosby, “Good things only happen when planned, bad things happen on their own.”

Life is hectic. Stuff happens. Our families, our jobs, our customers, the media, our cell phones all cry for our attention. Because of that, we spend most of our time reacting, instead of acting. That’s why life is so stressful. We are overwhelmed by our worries, our to-do lists and the things that require our attention. We can’t sleep because our minds are preoccupied. That unproductive preoccupation may be the single greatest consumer of time and energy. 

Amazingly, sitting down and putting together a plan of action, even if it is never acted upon, alleviates stress. If planning is so important, why don’t more people do it? Their biggest excuse: lack of time. Ironically, a few minutes in planning saves hours in execution. Planning has three simple steps: 
Step #1: Recognizing and acknowledging your “current reality” (Where are you?); 
Step #2: Creating a vision of the future (Where do I want to go?); 
Step #3: Identifying the action steps (How will I get there?) 

If you have not made planning a habit, why don’t you try it this year? See if you can make more good things happen in your life. Give yourself some people power. Find yourself some solitude. Reflect on all aspects of your life: your business or job (career), your relationships, your financial standing, your health, your spirituality (your purpose) and your goals. Set goals and timelines for attaining them. Finally, make a list of actions that you can take to accomplish those goals. 

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” Mark Twain said. “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.” 

You now have a set of goal plans. But, you are not finished. Create another list; we will call it the Master Task List. It’s time to clear your mind of all the tasks that have been weighing on your mind that you haven’t had time to do or start. This is a dynamic list. Whenever you think of something you need or want to do, you add it to the list. The purpose of this list is to clear your mind so that you can stay focused on the only moment of time you can control: this moment. Now. The more you use the list, the more your mind will trust and let go of its preoccupation with the actions on the list.

A good plan requires a good calendar. Not only is your calendar meant to keep track of your appointments and commitments, it is also to be used to schedule any task you would like to complete. The best plans will never make things happen unless the action steps are scheduled. Scheduling is the most effective way to accomplish anything. Do you need to spend more time with a spouse or partner? Schedule a dinner date. Have you been putting off your annual physical? Make a doctor’s appointment. Do you want to exercise more? Just schedule it. If you don’t schedule it, the odds are you won’t do it. Quit making excuses; schedule it!

Finally, to complete your plan, you will need one more “to do” list—today’s action plan. Whether you do it every morning or the night before, your future should begin with a short planning session. You review your previous day; consider what needs to be done today; review your master task list and your goal plan for actions that you can include on today’s list. Be realistic. Only put on the list what is to be done today. If you maintain and update your lists, planning only takes minutes a day. 

Do you want to cope or flourish? Flourishing requires you to do what you are programmed to do: create and act. After all, you were born to be an entrepreneur. Planning is the key. Remember, good things only happen when planned. 

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus