Apparently in a research study (How backup plans can harm goal pursuits: The unexpected downside of being prepared for failure) by Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman published in the journal of Organizational Behavior and Decision Process, having a Plan B may not help you succeed.
Before I discuss why a Plan B may not be a good idea for achieving your goals let’s review what Plan A is. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Plan A as, “an action or set of actions for doing or achieving something that is preferred to other methods”. Shin and Milkman determined that once you begin thinking about a fall back plan, your desire to achieve your goal decreases. When I heard about this research conclusion, I say, “What?”. I learned from my mother and I always thought that I should always have a back-up plan – just in case!
The researchers found that those who were encouraged to develop a Plan B were less likely to achieve their goal than those who did not receive these instructions. The Plan B participants were not only less successful accomplishing their goals, their interest in reaching their original goal decreased.
Sun Tzu was a Chinese general (born 544 BCE). He was excellent military strategist, and philosopher who lived in ancient China. The book, The Art of War, is traditionally credited to Sun Tzu and acknowledged as a work of genius on strategy. The book describes a philosophy of war, managing conflicts, and winning battles. Many quotes in the book have famous, one of these quotes is the following,
“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home”.
A long time ago Tzu crystallized what the researchers found – not having a Plan B focuses the mind and body on one thing – your ultimate goal. With Tzu there was no going back home.
This research made me stop and rethink that it could be to our advantage not to have a Plan B. If you proceed with a goal with an escape plan or doubting that you can achieve your goal, you’ve already begun to sabotage the outcome. Believe it or not on the unconscious level your self-talk is giving you permission to fail.
Remind yourself that you can succeed and if don’t have the tools and skills necessary – go get those tools. Don’t build a space in your mind for self-sabotaging beliefs.