Make a Plan for Motivation

Use plans everywhere to get unstuck.

Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #466

We all have things we want in life, without knowing exactly how to get them. So we don’t even get started. People say “Make a plan! Then take baby steps! And you’ll get there.” Well that’s great, except if we don’t actually know how to get where we want to go. So in that case, we don’t make a plan… and often don’t get started.

But scientists have discovered something exciting! It turns out that plans are useful even if they don’t tell us exactly at to do. Plans aren’t just a roadmap from point A to point B; it turns out that they do way more.

Plans give confidence, motivation, and results even if we get their steps completely wrong. Which makes plans useful in far more places than you’d think. To be confident, motivated, and resultified, use plans — even imperfect plans — everywhere.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. He’s the only person whose newsletter and blog I read regularly. He turns research-based results about psychology into actions we can take. He taught me something important about plans: plans are how you get unstuck. Simply having a plan, whether it’s accurate or not, is enough to make us feel confident and get us moving. Our brains are scared of the unknown, so as with anything we fear, our brain does the whole “flight, ”fight,“ or ”freeze" thing. Making a plan gives our brains something to know. So they feel safe, just by having a plan, and are better able to get us what we want. That calms down our brain, so we can think clearly and actually figure out how to reach our goal for real.

Today’s tip is really simple: use plans to get yourself moving, even if you don’t know all the steps. Let’s look at a few places where we don’t usually think of plans as a tool, but where they’ll get you moving anyway thanks to the confidence effects.

Use plans for building a social life

If you’re a workaholic like myself, you may have trouble finding the time to catch up with friends and cultivate new social connections. You may become a hermit, and let your hair grow down to your knees, and start talking to small animals.

Then we start thinking things like, “I can’t call Ashley because it’s been so long and I won’t know what to say about why I haven’t called and it will be embarrassing and I’m a horrible person and I don’t know how to get started, and … Hi, Bunny!!!”

Our brain goes down these hare-brained paths because it doesn’t know what else to do. So tell it what to do. Make a plan! A plan will help us get un-stuck from our introverted, hermetic ways. And it doesn’t need to be a detailed plan.

Here’s a sample plan: Step 1. “Call Ashley.” Step 2. “Say ‘I am so sorry for abandoning you at the altar. Let’s be friends again and go bowling Thursday.’” Once you get on the phone, you may or may not stick to the plan, but just having a plan will get you moving.

My personal plan to build a social life is to buy a television set and start inviting people over for movie nights. It’s been the plan for a couple of years. Have I followed it? NO! But having the plan has chilled me out enough that I’ve been making friends in other places instead. Just having the plan got me moving.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.