How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.
– Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, Inc.
There have been thousands of books on how critical planning is to achieving our future goals and happiness. But did you know that planning isn’t just a means to an end. Indeed, the act of planning itself can contribute significantly to our overall happiness regardless of whether we actually reach our goals. How does this work? It starts with a simple equation.
In his bestselling book Solving for Happy, Mow Gawdat, the former Chief Business Officer of Google X, solved for happiness with the following equation:
Happiness ≥ Our Reality (perceptions) – Our Expectations
In other words, our happiness decreases the greater the gap is between what we believe our life should look like and what it actually looks like. And while most peoples’ gaps are, unfortunately, much wider than they would prefer, planning provides way to narrow that gap while waiting for your ship to arrive.
Planning allows us to become today who we hope to be tomorrow.
So what does planning fit into the happiness equation. It may not seem obvious, but it is pretty simple. It all has to do with what our brain focuses on.
Have you ever bought a car or a pair of pants, or started listening to a song, that you thought was unique only to find out that, after you bought them, everyone else owned the same car or pants, or liked the same song. Before my son, Sawyer, was diagnosed with Austim Spectrum Disorder, i really didn’t know anyone who had a child with the disorder. But after the shock of his diagnosis wore off, all of a sudden it seemed like everyone I knew had a child, brother, or other relative on the spectrum. What is it a situation where there happened to be an explosion in the number of people who had ASD after my son was diagnosed? Certainly not. But until ASD was a significant part of my daily life, my brain filtered out as irrelevant all of those things I saw, heard or read related to the disorder. The part of the brain that is responsible for this filtering is called the Reticular Activating System, or RAS for short. It’s the same part of our brain that is responsible for filtering out the hundreds or thousands of sights, sounds and smells that, without the filter, would overload us to the point that we wouldn’t be able to drive a car down the freeway or carry on a conversation in a public restaurant.
When we plan, we take the time to translate what we hope will be our future state into things we need to do today to make that state a reality. And when we focus on those things we need to do today, our brain’s filters adjust to let through those things that are relevant to making those things happen. We begin to see opportunities we may not have seen before; we take action where, before, we might have thought it unnecessary or unproductive; and maybe we connect with people with who we previously thought we had nothing in common. And if we make planning a, consistent, regular part of our life, fueled by the positive emotions surrounding the goals those plans are designed to achieve, those opportunities, actions and people become our day to day reality. The gap between our new reality and our expectations narrows, and we find happiness regardless of whether we ever actually reach our goal.
Although we’re all mountain climbers to some degree, perhaps those who make the climb understand that they don’t have make it to the top to make the journey worth the effort. Like climbing, planning is valuable not just as a means to achieve happiness, but as source of happiness in and of itself.
So, what are you waiting for? Start climbing!